Tiger Woods says he does not know how he feels about having to face golfers who have left the PGA Tour for rival LIV Golf for the first time at the Masters in April but the splintering of the sport had taken a toll.

“I don’t know what that reaction is going to be,” said Woods, who will tee up at the PGA Tour’s Genesis Invitational this week.

“I know that some of our friendships have certainly taken a different path, but we’ll see when all that transpires. It’s still a couple of months away.”

Players from the warring circuits will break bread at the Masters traditional pre-tournament Champions’ dinner, where Woods says the focus should be on reigning tournament champion Scottie Scheffler despite the obvious tensions.

“We need to make sure Scottie is honoured correctly while also realising the nature of what has transpired,” he said.

“The people who have left, where our situations are legally, emotionally — there’s a lot there.”

Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka are among the big names who have left the PGA Tour for the lucrative, Saudi-backed LIV Golf.

While banned from PGA Tour events, LIV players have been invited to compete at the Masters.

LIV Golf’s inaugural season last year and the subsequent controversies and lawsuits had been “very turbulent” for the sport, Woods told reporters at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades.

“We never would have expected the game of golf to be in this situation but it is. That’s the reality,” he said.

“They’re a competitive organisation trying to create the best product they possibly can and we’re also trying to create the best product, which we think is the future of golf and how it should be played.

“How do we do that? We’re still working on it.”

Woods called world number one Rory McIlroy the PGA Tour’s “ambassador” and said he had been extraordinary at navigating the new, and at times hostile, terrain.

McIlroy beat LIV Golf’s Patrick Reed by one stroke at last month’s Dubai Desert Classic after the American, who is taking legal action on different fronts, threw a tee in the direction of the Northern Irishman, whom he had subpoenaed over Christmas.

“It’s been tough on him and he’s been exceptional,” Woods said.

“I’ve been on all of these conference calls, these side meetings, and for him to go out and play and win, it’s been incredible.”

Woods says he’s ‘playing to win’ in LA

Tiger Woods holds out his hand while sitting in front of a sponsor board
Tiger Woods is about to play his first tournament since missing the cut at last year’s Open Championship at St Andrews.(Getty Images: Jane Barlow/PA Images)

Woods was direct when discussing his goal for the upcoming Los Angeles Open.

“If I’m playing, I’m playing to win,” Woods said on Tuesday during a news conference ahead of the event at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California.

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“I know some players have played as ambassadors to the game and trying to grow the game. I can’t wrap my mind around that. I’m playing to beat the other players and get a ‘W’.”

Woods, 47, is returning to competitive golf for the first time since failing to make the cut at The Open Championship in July.

All told, he played in just three tournaments last season as he continued his recovery from a serious leg injury sustained in a single-car accident the day after the 2021 Los Angeles Open was completed.

The 15-time major champion is host of the annual event through his charity foundation.

He will play his first two rounds with two of his close friends on tour, McIlroy and Justin Thomas.

Woods noted that his participation in this week’s tournament was not a sign of a full-time return to the tour.

“Would I like to play more? Yes,” Woods said. “Would (his health) allow me to? I don’t know. I have to be realistic about that.”

Woods, however, said his knee and leg were not so much the issue this time around.

“As far as the recovery, it’s more my ankle, whether I can recover from day to day,” he said.

“The leg is better than it was last year, but it’s my ankle.

“So being able to have it recover from day to day and meanwhile still stress it but have the recovery and also have the strength development at the same time, it’s been an intricate little balance that we’ve had to dance.”