tiger looks for an early impact
Watson talks up Woods' British Open hopes
TIGER WOODS will not have to wait too long to make his competitive return to Hoylake in the 143rd Open Championship, which gets under way on Thursday.
Woods, who claimed his third Claret Jug the last time the Open was staged at Hoylake in 2006, will start his first round at 9:04am alongside Argentina's Angel Cabrera and Sweden's Henrik Stenson.
After missing the first two majors of the year following back surgery, Woods returned to action in the Quicken Loans National at the end of June, although he missed the halfway cut at Congressional.
The 14-time major winner has not played competitively since, but completed 12 holes in practice on Saturday and a full round on Sunday and was in buoyant mood.
"I can do whatever I want. I'm at that point now," the 38-year-old said of his recovery from surgery on March 31. "We didn't think we'd get to that point until this tournament or the week after.
"Before I had the procedure, I was at the point I couldn't do anything. This is how I used to feel. I had been playing with [the back injury] for a while and I had my good weeks and bad weeks. Now they are all good."
Double Open champion Ireland's Pádraig Harrington is in the group after Woods along with 2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel and Korea's KJ Choi, with former world number one Rory McIlroy next out in the company of American Jordan Spieth and Japan's Hideki Matsuyama.
Phil Mickelson gets the defence of his title under way at 2:05pm in the company of 2012 winner Ernie Els and current Masters champion Bubba Watson, with Scottish Open winner Justin Rose out two groups later with world number one Adam Scott and former US PGA champion Jason Dufner.
Five-time Open champion Tom Watson has warned the doubters that Woods is a long way from being written off.
"It is silly to think that way about what he says. Why can't you understand that Tiger Woods may well win this tournament?" he said.
"I wouldn't write off Tiger Woods for a long time the way he plays the game.
"He is a tough competitor, he knows how to swing the club: yes, he's had some injuries and other issues but you fully expect him to have a much longer career."