When Tiger Woods was forced to miss The Open in 2016 and 2017 because of a chronic back condition that required multiple surgeries, he feared that he might never play again.
Remarkably, at the age of 42, the former world No.1 is not only playing again, but is convinced that he can win at the highest level.
It was a quiet, reflective and relaxed Tiger who opened up to the media today. His competitive spirit burns as fiercely as ever, but he has tempered his hopes and expectations with a dash of reality.
And that, for those who have observed him over the years, is rare indeed.
“To have the opportunity to come back to Carnoustie, to play here in Scotland again … it has been a blessing,” he said. “There were times where I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do this again.”
It is hard to believe that Woods last won The Open in 2006, so fresh is his triumph in the memory. The Hoylake course that year was as scorched as Carnoustie is this week and only Woods had the wherewithal to tame it.
The driver stayed in the bag for all but one of the 72 holes and he gave a master tactician’s display of course management and iron play. He will be hoping to draw on those memories this week.
Woods has won the Claret Jug three times (2000, 2005 and 2006) and believes that of all the major championships, The Open is the one that offers him his best chance of adding to his tally of 14 majors. It is difficult to contradict him.
“You don’t have to be long (off the tee) on a links style golf course – and look at what Tom (Watson) did at Turnberry at 59,” he explained.
“You get to places like Augusta National, where it’s just a big ballpark, and the golf course outgrows you.” Woods is nothing if not creative. And creativity is going to be a key aspect to play this week.
“We’re not going to get the most perfect bounces,” he said. “A wonderful shot down the middle of the fairway could bounce some weird way. That’s just part of it. And I think that’s the fun challenge of it.
And his confidence levels after the best part of two years out of the game prior to this year?
“Each tournament I keep coming back to, I feel a little bit better because I’m starting to play some golf again. I’ve made a few adjustments; I’ve changed putters; I’ve tweaked my swing a little bit … and everything has gotten better. I’ve put myself up there in contention a couple of times. I just need to play some cleaner golf - and who knows?”
Who knows, indeed?