There were small signs of back pain a week later at the PGA Championship, and what followed were three surgeries and a stop-and-start schedule. Woods had his first back surgery, a microdiscectomy, a week before the 2014 Masters. Since then, there have been four occasions where he returned either from back surgery or from taking time off to let his injuries heal.

The fourth surgery was to fuse two discs in his lower back. That was more about the quality of life than trying to win a golf tournament. The fact that Woods is even playing his holiday exhibition just over seven months after surgery, and six months after that embarrassing arrest, feels like a bonus.

“I missed playing golf for fun,” Woods said. “I hadn’t done that in two years. I played nine holes here and 18 holes here, and then I have to take three days off because my back was killing me.”

Woods returned from a 15-month layoff a year ago at the Hero World Challenge, and while he finished 15th in the 18-man field, he made 24 birdies, raising hopes. He never spoke of being in pain last year, or even at Torrey Pines in January. He then flew to Dubai and withdrew after a 77, citing back spasms.

The difference this time, Woods said, is that he doesn’t feel pain, and he thinks now he can take on any shot. He said when he looks back on his performance last year in the Bahamas, it seems as though he were in slow motion.

“I didn’t realize how bad my back had become and how much I was flinching and just how slow I was,” he said. “I didn’t realize it because it’s been a slow, degrading process. I thought I had some speed, thought I was playing halfway decent, shot some good scores, but now I’ve looked back on it and man, I didn’t even have much at all.”

He’s not sure what he has now.

The tournament starts Thursday. It will be the first time since Feb. 3 in Dubai that Woods has to count every shot.

“I’m just looking forward to getting through these four rounds and having an understanding — a better understanding — of where I’m at,” he said.