Retief Goosen returns to action this week in the Volvo Golf Champions after a five month absence following back surgery.
The two-time US Open Champion underwent disc replacement surgery after the US PGA Championship last year and returns about six weeks ahead of schedule on one of his favourite courses, Durban Country Club, in a tournament where he lost out to Branden Grace in a play-off 12 months ago.
“I’m very excited about the new year,” said Goosen. “Hopefully the back will stay as good as it feels now. I just need to really work on my swing a little bit and find a bit of game.
“I don't really know what to expect. You're feeling good and keen to play again after five months. I like Durban Country Club. I lost by a shot to Ernie in the SA Open here, and it's a course I like. I've got some good memories about the course and hopefully that will help me this week. I'm not really sitting here expecting to win but you never know in this game.”
Goosen has won 14 titles on The European Tour including his US Open triumphs in 2001 and 2004, but has struggled for the past three years with a disc that had “totally disintegrated”.
“Obviously the last three years have been pretty bad,” he said. “Last year I tried a bit of everything. We had PRP injections, loads of physio, anything you could think of but nothing really helped. And in the end, we had no choice but to have the operation.
“And it's been great. It's been almost five months now. I've been off painkillers and that cleans the system out a little bit. You feel a bit better. So I'm feeling very confident for this year. I started hitting balls, or half shots, about three weeks ago and I felt pretty good.
“So about two weeks ago, just before the deadline to enter for this, I decided I would enter
and see how I feel. Last week I was up at Zebula Country Club and I played a couple of rounds there and my back felt pretty good and I decided would I give it a go.”
Twelve months ago Goosen was involved in a play-off with Ernie Els, who would go on to win The Open Championship in July, and eventual winner Grace, who finished the year with a staggering four European Tour titles to his name.
“Golf is such a fine line,” said Goosen. “You just need that one break to get yourself in a winning mode, and I think that did a lot of good for Branden last year, beating me in a play-off. It kick started his year and it's great that we see that another South African is coming through.”
Goosen missed out on the SA Open title over the Durban Country Club in December 2010 to Els but is anticipating a more challenging test around the greens in particular.
“The course, in general, is very tough,” he said. “I think around the greens it's going to be more difficult. The ball runs away from the green a little more than it did in the SA Open, and not having the same lines it's going to make it more tricky to chip around the greens. And the speed of the greens is so much quicker than it was. The course will very much play the same but on the greens it's going to be more difficult to make putts.”