Tiger Woods acknowledged that he is returning from back surgery earlier than he would have if this week's tournament were not the one he hosts for the benefit of his foundation. He added that the explosiveness that marks his game is not there yet. Still, he said he is pain free and "Lo and behold, here we are."
"Here" is the Quicken Loans National in Bethesda, Maryland, where he held a news conference in advance of his first appearance on Thursday in tournament golf since back surgery on March 31. He is pleased to be playing, and happy to have recovered from a pinched nerve that literally knocked him off his feet. "It's no joke," he said.
The average recovery time from the microdiscectomy that he underwent is 12 to 16 weeks, doctors said, which means he is ahead of schedule. Having missed the season's first two majors, Woods had targeted the British Open in July as his return date, but he felt well enough to give it a go at Congressional Country Club this week.
"If this wasn't the foundation and the impact we can have on kids, I probably would not [play]. I healed extremely fast, thanks to my physios and my nutrition and all the things that we did," he said, referring to his physical therapists.
"I'm going to get stronger as time goes on, but the risk is minimal, just like it is in every tournament we play. You can hit a tree root and damage something."
It will be another in a series of comebacks for Woods, who has had numerous layoffs in his career, many of them related to his left knee. He always has said that every time he tees it up, he expects to win. In fact, he has won twice after an absence (the 2003 Buick Invitational and 2012 Arnold Palmer Invitational). But he never has had to return from back surgery.
"The expectations don't change. That is the ultimate goal," he said, alluding to a victory. "It's just going to be a little harder this time. I just haven't had the amount of prep and reps that I would like, but I'm good enough to play and I'm ready to give it a go."
He recalled how back pain would flare up now and again last season, and that early this year he could not get out of bed. That changed immediately after the surgery. "It was amazing, the relief. You've got your life back. That's basically how I felt," he said.
The strengthening exercises he has done for years helped him come back quickly, but his habit of pushing himself through pain might have hurt him. At the very least, he won't do that anymore.
Golf in general has had its own problems, as it usually does when Woods is out. The Masters and U.S. Open were not scintillating and TV ratings were down.
"It's always good having him back in a tournament," said Justin Rose, who won Woods' event when it was known as the AT & T National. "I've always felt that if you win a tournament and Tiger's in the field, it makes it feel probably that little more special. Just from an atmosphere point of view, he brings out people to watch and that's always a fun environment to be part of."