Tiger ends break, gets 1st look at Open course

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland -- Tiger Woods flew overnight from Florida, landed near Portrush early in the morning, made a quick stop at his rental home and was at the course of this week's Open within a few hours Sunday to begin preparation for the major championship he has won three times.

In what is expected to be rare sunshine this week, Woods was getting his first look at Royal Portrush, which is hosting The Open for just the second time, the first since 1951.

Woods, 43, has plenty of work to do. He has not played competitive golf since the final round of the U.S. Open on June 16 and did not play any golf while on a two-week trip to Thailand with his family.

"Zero," said Woods of his vacation from golf. "The clubs stayed in the travel case, like I told you guys, I wouldn't touch them. I didn't do a damn thing. I putted as soon as I got back and then built it up from there."

Woods, who played an 18-hole practice round with Patrick Reed, appeared a bit sluggish as he worked his way around the course with an ever-increasing crowd. The Open's return to Portrush has meant strong demand, with tournament tickets selling out and practice-round tickets on sale for Sunday.

After tying for 21st at the U.S. Open, Woods immediately embarked on a trip to Thailand that included his mother, Kultida, and two children, Sam, 12 and Charlie, 10. Woods said his mom, who is from Thailand, wanted her grandchildren to see her homeland.

"We had the greatest time," he said. "Sam's birthday was over there. We rode elephants, went on a safari, visited the islands. It was an experience. Especially since my mom's health is diminishing and we're not sure how many times she can do this.

"They understand the culture there a little bit more, the things they didn't really know about. It was pretty cool for them to experience that at such a young age.

"I just helped with them. I knew from being over there, I knew the culture, I was raised with it. The only thing I didn't try was the spicy food. Not happening again."

Woods returned July 2 and has been gradually ramping up his game at home in Florida. Asked whether he was concerned about overdoing it in the lead-up, Woods said: "Not at all. Because I do the same thing. I start from the green back. I putt, chip, pitch, short irons, mid irons, long irons, woods. And then I eventually play. Nothing has changed. The only difference is that certain days I can do more than others."

The 7,344-yard, par-71 Royal Portrush course was playing firm and fast on Sunday, although that could change. Rain is expected for the tournament days, and wind is always a factor on a seaside links. Woods hit numerous drivers off the tees -- which would be a change from last year at Carnoustie -- as he figured out how to play the course.

As he played his practice round, Woods noted some of the severe runoffs around the greens, as well as their size.

"A lot of movement. A lot of decision off the tees, angles," he said. "With the wind switching and coming out of the south in the future, a lot of these shots we hit today are useless. Trying to figure out what lines to take, what lines to take on, what lines not to take on. And then these green complexes are so complicated, you have to miss the ball in the right spot."

Having played just 10 competitive rounds since his Masters victory in April and none in the past month, there is plenty of conjecture about Woods' preparation heading into the final major championship of the year.

But the 15-time major champion maintained that the rest after the U.S. Open was good and that a limited schedule this year was always the plan, especially with an expected busy stretch upcoming.

"The break is always great for my golf, especially now," he said. "I told you guys last year I wouldn't be playing as much this year, and it's going to turn out that way."

Woods has played just nine times in 2019. He played 18 PGA Tour events in 2018, as well as the Ryder Cup.

A decision looms on next week's WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in Memphis, Tennessee. So far, Woods is undecided on the World Golf Championship event, which is six time zones from Northern Ireland.

He is expected to play all three FedEx Cup playoff events, which begin Aug. 8 at the Northern Trust in New Jersey and could result in five tournaments in six weeks. Woods has played back-to-back events just once -- and never three straight -- this year.