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03 Aug 2011

Former world number one Tiger Woods returns to competitive golf on Thursday insisting he has no regrets about sacking caddie Steve Williams.

Woods, who last played in May, is in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational field.

He ended a 12-year partnership with Williams last month, prompting an angry response from the New Zealander.

"I felt it was time for a change," said Woods, now world number 28. "He is a hell of a guy and has helped my career but I think I've helped his as well."

Williams was dismissed after Woods was reportedly upset by the caddie choosing to work for Australian Adam Scott without seeking his employer's permission.

Woods revealed that he informed the Kiwi of his decision in the clubhouse at last month's AT&T National tournament in Washington, which the 14-time major winner attended to promote his charity foundation.

A furious Williams later said he had "wasted two years" but Woods told a news conference: "That's what he says and what he feels. I felt it was time for a change. Stevie and I have had an amazing run - Stevie's an amazing caddie.

"We had a nice conversation," he said. "It was a tough conversation, but we said what we needed to face-to-face and man-to-man."

The new man on the bag for Woods at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio will be childhood friend Bryon Bell, who also caddied for him in the 1999 Buick Invitational.

"Bryon and I go way back," said Woods, who confirmed Bell's appointment was just an "interim" measure, adding "we are very comfortable on the course".

Woods, who won the most recent of his majors in 2008 and has not won any tournament since November 2009, was last seen in competitive action at the Players Championship.

He aggravated knee and Achilles injuries sustained at the Masters in April on the first tee and withdrew after nine holes, having limped through the outward half in a six-over-par 42.

The 35-year-old American had won seven times in nine appearances at the Firestone course and was second and fourth on the other two occasions, but last year finished joint 78th out of 80 on 18-over-par as details of his much-fabled divorce were being finalised.

"The docs gave me the clearance, so here I am. I started practising a couple of weeks ago, which was nice, and I was close to playing last week, but again the doctors advised me that maybe I should take another week," said Woods

"I started pushing it pretty hard and I feel good now. Some of the things I'm working with [coach] Sean [Foley] are starting to make sense. I can see what he's trying to get me to do."

In the first two rounds at Ohio Woods will play alongside Open champion Darren Clarke, who moved from 111th to 30th in the world rankings following his victory at Sandwich.

World number one Luke Donald partners Masters champion Charl Schwartzel while world number two Lee Westwood, who a year ago had to pull out of the tournament with a leg injury, tees up with Ryder Cup team-mate Graeme McDowell.

Rory McIlroy, McDowell's successor as US Open champion, plays with defending champion Hunter Mahan in his first start in America since his eight-shot success in Washington in June.


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