Bill Elliott discusses Tiger Woods' return to the golfing world following his absence from the sport due to back surgery in this Open 2014 blog

Open 2014: Bill Elliott Blog 

The question to Tiger Woods was direct and simple and the answer was even more direct and even simpler…

Q: What would be an acceptable finish for you here this weekend?

A: First.

In this small flurry of words you have the essence of the man, the golfer, above all the competitor. It is why Woods is special and why he will continue to be special for some years yet.

Watching and listening here at Hoylake as he talked to reporters about what lies ahead for him this week, there was something different about this driven man, something small but tangible, something that suggests a corner has been turned following his back operation.

He told us about how his life had changed so much over the last several years. He did not refer to the turmoil following that clash with a fire hydrant back in 2008 but he hinted at it and by doing so he acknowledged that, for him, nothing was ever going to be quite the same.

“As a person I’ve gone through a lot, ” he said quietly. “The loss of a parent and having two kids. Life is very different than it was then. I’ve got a completely different golf swing that I did in ’06. A lot of aspects of my game and life have changed.”

And now, at last, he says he is pain-free. There was a point when his back was so bad, the pain shooting down his leg so fierce that his quality of life, never mind his golf, was threatened. The man who had everything suddenly faced the prospect of having very little that actually mattered. What use is a yacht and a jet if you have to crawl on board?

“I couldn’t play with this latest back problem. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t actually enjoy my life. Just life, the daily things of just moving around. It just wasn’t a whole lot of fun. I couldn’t actually get out of bed.”

That he can now get out of bed, his golf balls and walk happily several miles around a golf course is evidene of the quality of his surgeons. That he has come to Hoylake to defend the title he won here eight long years ago is testimony to his own quality as a sportsman who never knows when he is beat.

This Open is hugely improved by his presence and if he can make it through to Sunday and may even wander round the periphery of the leading edges of this old battle then everyone will be happy.

No, sorry, not everyone, not Tiger. For him it is first or nothing. It always was.