Scandal-hit star golfer Tiger Woods has thanked fans for an "incredible reception" as he prepared to return to competitive golf at the US Masters.
At a news conference in Augusta, Georgia on Monday, he said he realised he had failed to appreciate his fans support in the past and was looking to bounce back after his absence.
"Coming into today I didn't know what to expect with regards to the reception," Woods said.
"The encouragement, it blew me away. The people here over the years are extremely respectful but today was something that touched my heart pretty good."
The world number one has not played competitive golf since his private life spectacularly unravelled last year with the revelation that he had had multiple extramarital affairs.
"Especially going through all of this, over the past few months, it really put things into perspective for me, and into how much I have appreciated or actually under-appreciated the fans in the game of golf," Wood said.
Back in the game
Woods played 18 holes in practice with 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples earlier in the day, and the pair were joined for the last six holes by 2003 US Open champion Jim Furyk.
Fans gathered to watch him play, but many were still smarting from last year's revelations.
"I certainly am still a Tiger fan but I'm mad at him," the Reuters news agency reported one female Tiger fan at the Augusta course as saying.
Woods surprised many by turning up a day early at the US Masters venue on Sunday where he was spotted at the Augusta National's revamped practice facility and played the back nine holes with his friend and long-time mentor Mark O'Meara.
The 34-year-old Woods, a 14-times major champion, took an indefinite break from the game to try to repair his marriage after he admitted to a string of affairs four months ago.
'Good for the sport'
There has been a great deal of anticipation around he return to professional gold, announced last month, at the Masters, which begins on Thursday.
Joanna Gasiorowska, Al Jazeera's sports presenter, said Wood's peers would likely welcome him back.
|There has been a great deal of anticipation around Woods' return to gold [AFP]
"I think the professionals know that, although its going to harm their chances of winning in Augusta, its good for the sport to have him back," she said.
"He's the world number one and since Tiger Woods has been on the scene, golf has really risen to become such a prominent sport. A lot of money has flowed in because of Tiger Woods and because of the sponsorship."
Despite the much-reported scale of his infidelities, there has been no split from his wife, Swedish former model Elin Nordegren.
At the his news conference, Woods said that his wife would not be joining him at the Master's tournament.