INZAI, Japan — Tiger Woods had every reason to be cheerful on Wednesday as he finished his preparations for the Zozo Championship.
On a glorious morning amid a delightfully intimate atmosphere—as is customary in Japan, tickets were not sold to the public for the pro-am—Woods hit the ball better than he did during the MGM Resorts The Challenge: Japan Skins on Monday. Most importantly, he moved freely and looked pain-free a day before his first start since an operation on his left knee in August.
Next up: some much-needed sleep.
“I need a little bit more rest,” Woods said with a smile, referring to a hectic schedule since his arrival in Japan that included multiple appearances around Tokyo on Sunday. “Been a little bit busy. But I’ll get a little bit of rest this afternoon after a good little practice session. I’ll be ready to go.”
That Woods also practiced after the round is a testament to how healthy he feels just two months after his procedure to repair minor cartilage damage. The knee had been bothering him since at least last year, and he initially intended to have the procedure after the 2018 Hero World Challenge. He postponed it until after the 2018-’19 season because he was playing so well, a decision validated by his Masters victory in April.
The 15-time major champion showed no signs of discomfort on Wednesday and was in complete control of his golf ball, varying trajectories and shapes with every club in the bag. He made studying Narashino Country Club’s undulating putting surfaces a priority, as this was just the second time he had seen the course. After playing The Challenge on Monday, Woods did not come out to Narashino on Tuesday amid stormy conditions.
For Woods, this week holds significance for a number of reasons other than his health. He’s playing again in Japan, a golf-crazy country hosting its maiden PGA Tour event, for the first time since 2006. This will also almost certainly be Woods’ only start before deciding if he’ll use a Presidents Cup captain’s pick on himself. Given Woods’ struggles toward summer’s end—he missed the cut at Open Championship, withdrew from the Northern Trust due to an oblique strain and finished T-37 out of 70 at the BMW Championship—a good finish this week, against a world-class field, would go a long way toward showing that his game is ready for Royal Melbourne.
“I’m excited about having this end-of-the-year run where I’m feeling much more fit,” Woods said. “I don’t have the achiness that I’ve been dealing with for the last couple years.”
In recent weeks, Woods said he’s been “pretty consumed” by the picking process but did not give any indication of whom he might select.
Because the health and Presidents Cup narratives have dominated so many headlines, it feels almost forgotten that Woods has another chance this week to win a record-tying 82nd PGA Tour title. Woods has won events all over the world—including the 2004 and 2005 Dunlop Phoenix Open here in Japan—so matching Sam Snead’s record roughly 5,500 miles away from Las Vegas, the site of his first win, would border on poetic.
“It’s part of playing the game—we play a global game,” Woods said. “I’ve always wanted to win around the world, and I’ve won here a couple times. Would love to get another one.”
Woods will begin his first round Thursday off the 10th tee at 8:40 a.m. local time/7:40 p.m. EST on Wednesday alongside Satoshi Kodaira and Tommy Fleetwood.