Tiger Woods: Will American's return to PGA Tour be worth the wait?

Tiger Woods at the 2016 Ryder Cup
Tiger Woods was in joyous spirit when he was vice-captain for USA's victory in the 2016 Ryder Cup

Tiger Woods admits he is nervous before his long-awaited return to action.

Having not played competitively for more than 470 days, Woods takes part in his own tournament - the 18-man Hero World Challenge - at Albany in the Bahamas, starting on Thursday.

And despite acknowledging the nerves he will feel when he tees it up for the first time since the 2015 Wyndham Championship, the 14-time major champion is typically bullish about his chances of making a successful return to the game.

Woods, now ranked 879 in the world, has recovered from multiple back surgeries and insists he is, at last, ready to return. In the autumn he withdrew from his intended comeback tournaments in California and Turkey, saying his game was "vulnerable".

Many pundits believed this was further evidence he was finished as a professional golfer, claiming he had suffered stage fright or lacked the inherent fitness to compete at the highest level.

"I have way more shots now, because I've played way more golf," Woods told reporters, as he practised on the Albany range. "I only had a handful of shots back then.

"And you just saw a session where I hit everything. And I had control of everything. I can hit all the shots now, on call."

Media playback is not supported on this device

5 ways Tiger Woods changed golf

This is trademark Woods, always keen to talk up his abilities and build the aura that befits someone who has won 79 titles on the PGA Tour.

"Yes, I'm nervous," said Woods, who continues to work with swing coach Chris Como. "I'm nervous for every tournament I play in, whether it's after a lay-off, or six in a row, or a major.

"If I care, I'm nervous. And it's good to be that way. To have that nervous energy and channel it - into aggression, into focus, into concentration - that's good stuff.

"If I wasn't nervous, that would mean I didn't care. I don't want to be out there flat. I want to be out here so bad. And now I am."

Woods has switched to a Bridgestone golf ball following the withdrawal of Nike from the golf equipment market, but he is using the same irons as were in his bag for his last competitive outing, along with a Scotty Cameron putter.

During his range sessions the 40-year-old is carrying drives more than 300 yards and ahead of this week's tournament increased his playing regime at his home course, Medalist, in Florida.

Woods' caddie Joe La Cava suggested ditching the use of a buggy for those practice rounds and they built to the point where they played four rounds on consecutive days.

"It's weird to say, but I have to get my walking legs," Woods said. "It's a 5-mile walk. You forget what it feels like to be in golf shoes versus tennis shoes.

"To be on an uneven lie versus a flat lie. I can walk for two or three hours on a treadmill and it's not the same as walking on a golf course. It's so different, the standing around.

"The rhythm of playing in a golf cart versus walking and playing. I had forgotten that because I had been away for over a year. Joey really helped me... normal tournament talk, I had to get used to that again."

Tiger Woods with the US Open winners trophy in 2008
Tiger Woods' last major trophy was the US Open in 2008 and the last time he was number one in the world was in May 2014. He has occupied the top spot for 683 weeks in his career

And Woods is convinced he made the correct choice to delay his comeback until this week.

"It was a smart decision in the end to pull out of the tournaments," Woods said about his withdrawal from the Safeway Open in Napa, California and the Turkish Airlines Open.

"The competitor inside me wanted to go so badly, I was itching to go. I had been playing at home and I thought I could get it around.

"I had played feeling worse and won golf tournaments. But I finally decided why rush… I had waited more than a year, so let's wait a little more and get it right."

Twelve months ago, Woods appeared at his lowest ebb.

Now the message is much more upbeat, which brings its own challenge - to back up this bullish outlook with a performance that shows his words are not hollow.

He claims he has all the shots and - to borrow from that famous Morecambe and Wise sketch with Andre Previn - he now has to show he can play them in the right order to once again make golfing music.

It would be wrong, though, to read too much into this week's event regardless of how he performs. If he goes well we should remember the course will have been set up to his liking and if he struggles he deserves some slack after such a long absence.

Most significant will be how he fares under the physical rigours of 72 holes of competitive strokeplay which will force him to take on shots outside his comfort zone.

Woods' body is fragile and has been ever since he won his 14th major, the 2008 US Open, with a broken leg. It is more than three years since he won on the PGA Tour.

First he has to prove that he is physically strong enough to compete, only then will we know if he has any chance of taking on the players at the top of the game.

Right now he is outside the world's top 800. The rankings don't lie, as they didn't for the 683 weeks Woods was number one.

Despite his current optimism, he has yet to reach even the foothills in his quest to again scale golf's summit. For someone who turns 41 at the end of the year it is an improbable journey, but one that will, inevitably, be watched with great interest.