Tiger inspired by Mickelson, eyes Masters challenge


Miami (AFP)

Tiger Woods is drawing inspiration from fellow veteran Phil Mickelson's win in Mexico last weekend as he plots the latest stage of his comeback this week ahead of next month's Masters.

The 42-year-old former world number one will tee off in the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship on Thursday hoping to get more rounds under his belt heading into Augusta in three weeks' time.

Woods has endured mixed results since returning to the tour this season, finishing tied for 23rd at Torrey Pines in January before missing the cut at Riviera in Los Angeles last month.

He followed that up with a 12th-place finish at the Honda Classic and is playing the Valspar at Tampa, Florida this week in an attempt to hone his game before the Masters.

Woods missed all of 2016 and most of 2017 because of debilitating back trouble that culiminated in spinal fusion surgery last April.

He said the 47-year-old Mickelson's victory at the WGC Championship in Mexico on Sunday encouraged him to believe he could still add to his collection of 106 professional wins.

"What Phil's doing is showing that we can still do it later on in our careers," Woods told reporters on Wednesday.

"Davis won at 51, Phil at 47," he said, referring to Davis Love III. "There are a few guys who can do it late in their career."

Woods, who has missed the last two Masters, is also not ruling out a member of the old guard prevailing at Augusta next month.

"The favorites are the guys who've always done well there," Woods said, insisting that himself and former champions such as Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer, Bubba Watson and Mickelson were all capable of challenging.

"I'm not going to put it out of the realm if Freddie feels good, he's still in he mix. Bernhard is still in the mix. Phil is in the mix. Myself, Bubba. There's a few who know how to play the golf course and it fits us," Woods said.

"There's definitely going to be some young guys who've been playing well up there. But Augusta is one of those courses that favors the vets. It's a hard test."

- 'Here I am' -

At this stage of the season, however, Woods is simply happy to be back on the circuit.

"I'm just ecstatic to have a chance to play again and to have a chance to win golf tournaments and compete," he said.

"There was a while there where I didn't know if I was ever going to be out there again in the capacity of a professional player. But here I am, and it's a lot of fun."

Woods said he hopes to use Valspar to fine-tune his game while building up his endurance.

"Keep progressing, keep making small changes, small tweaks," he said. "Hopefully I can continue to do that this week.

"I've only played 10 rounds. I know some people are saying that I've been a little erratic, or a little inconsistent. But it's 10 rounds. It's not that many.

"I looked up some of my stats last night as I wanted to see where I'm ranked -- I'm not even on the rankings, because I haven't played enough rounds.

"That's basically how my comeback has been so far."