DOHA, Qatar — Tiger Woods has rediscovered more than just the ability to win again.
Having ended 2011 with his first victory in two years, Woods said the joy of being able to play golf with a healthy body has returned as well.
He told The Associated Press by email that he has fully recovered from the leg injuries that ruined much of last season. He also hopes his recent victory at the Chevron World Challenge in California is the “start of another great run.”
“The lowest moments (last year) came from the fact that I wasn’t healthy and couldn’t put in the time on and off the course that I wanted and needed to, and that was frustrating,” Woods said. “I was playing with pain and that isn’t fun. The last couple of months have been really fun and that is mostly because I am feeling healthy again and building week on week.”
Woods is preparing for his first tournament of the year and his first in Abu Dhabi. He will be facing a world-class field that features U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, top-ranked Luke Donald and defending champion Martin Kaymer.
The tournament starts Jan. 26 and will give a first indication of whether Woods can maintain his level of play at the Chevron in December. That was his first victory since a car crash outside his home in 2009 led to revelations of extramarital affairs that derailed his marriage and golf game.
“I am looking to get off to a fast start in Abu Dhabi and keep building from there,” Woods said. “Now that I am healthy, I feel I can keep building my game and confidence week on week, much like I did at the end of (last) year — from the Australian Open to the Presidents Cup to, finally, a win in California.”
Woods finished third at the Australian Open, and then delivered the clinching point for the American team in the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.
Now he’s eager to show some of the young players who have grabbed the spotlight during his two-year slump that he’s still a force.
Donald made history this year by winning the money titles on both sides of the Atlantic, while McIlroy’s dominant performance at the U.S. Open drew comparisons to Woods in his prime.
“There are so many great and talented players in the game right now — it is exciting for golf fans and I relish the challenge of going head-to-head with any number of the leading players on a Sunday afternoon,” Woods said. “Rory and Luke are both very talented golfers and I admire what they have achieved in the last year. I look forward to having many great battles on a Sunday afternoon with these great players in 2012.”
He acknowledged, however, that reclaiming the No. 1 ranking he held for so long might prove difficult. After falling out of the top 50 for a brief period last year, Woods is now ranked No. 23.
“The young guys coming through are practicing harder and training harder than ever before and raising the bar,” Woods said. “I think the level of consistency I had a few years ago would see me climb back up the rankings pretty quickly, but I do think there are some pretty phenomenal golfers out there that I really respect.”