By Steve Keating
DORAL, Florida (Reuters) - Tiger Woods will defend his WGC-Cadillac Championship title and world number one ranking after confirming on Wednesday he had recovered from back spasms that forced him to withdraw from last week's Honda Classic.
Woods smiled and joked with the media as he entered the Doral resort showing no sign of the discomfort that forced him to delay his pre-tournament press conference a day earlier while he received treatment on his back.
"I feel better, I feel good," said Woods, who will tee off on Thursday with Masters champion Adam Scott and FedExCup winner Henrik Stenson. "It's been a long couple days of just treatment nonstop, trying to get everything calmed down."
Woods will need to be back at his best this week as he takes on an elite field that features the top 50 ranked players, including Australian world number two Scott, who could replace the American at the top of the rankings.
If Scott wins the $9 million tournament and Woods finishes seventh or worse, the Australian will take over as number one.
While Woods ruled himself fit he admitted he had done little work on the golf course since withdrawing from the final round of the Honda Classic on Sunday after 13 holes.
The 14-times major winner, however, said there will be no hesitation in his swing this week.
"I hit some balls yesterday," said Woods. "Furthest ball I hit I think was 60 yards, just trying to make sure I keep my feel.
"So I chipped and putted for a while, just making sure I had my feels in my hands and I didn't lose that over the last couple days.
"My treatments have been fantastic. It's annoying being poked and prodded all the time, but it's got me to a point where I can do this today, and tomorrow I'll be able to hit more full shots and go all out."
In 13 career starts at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, Woods has seven wins, the last four coming at the Doral resort.
While the Blue Monster course has been a happy hunting ground for Woods he will find himself in unfamiliar surroundings this year with the famed layout, already recognized as one of the PGA Tour's toughest, made even more frightening after a $250 million renovation.
In fact, Woods had yet to set foot on the course until heading out to get his first look at the redesign immediately following his news conference.
"I've got no idea about what that golf course holds out there except for what is on video, that's it," said Woods. "So there are a few changes I need to go see.
"I'm not going to play. I'm just going to chip and putt and get a feel for how the grass is and if it's different from what it was the last time we played."
Many things may have changed at Doral but one thing that has not is Woods's will to win. But while the mind is willing, Woods has discovered that occasionally the body is not, his back woes becoming an increasing concern.
Woods has battled knee operations, wrist, elbow and shoulder problems during his career but he says back issues are something completely different.
"A bad back is something that is no joke," said Woods. "When I had my injuries over the years, it was always after impact. So it's fine; the ball's gone. It's going to hurt like hell, but the ball's gone.
"But with the back, it's a totally different deal.
"There are certain moments, certain movements you just can't do. That's one of the things I've started to learn about this type of injury; it's very different."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)