Pain-free Tiger sees little risk in return
US golfer Tiger Woods smiles while speaking to the press at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland on June 24, 2014 - by Mladen Antonov
The 14-time major champion, sidelined for three months following back surgery to ease a pinched nerve, returns to competition starting Thursday at the $6.5 million US PGA National.
"I'm actually probably ahead of schedule, where everyone thought I would be at," Woods said.
"We all thought the British Open would be my first event back, but I healed fast."
The event at Congressional Country Club benefits Woods' charity foundation and he said Tuesday that factor played a role in his decision to return this week rather than wait three more weeks for the British Open, his original target goal.
"If this wasn't the foundation and our impact that we can have with kids, I probably would not (have played)," said Woods. "I healed extremely fast, thanks to my physios and all my nutrition and all the different things that we did."
Woods confirmed that he does plan to play in the British Open next month at Royal Liverpool, where he won the Claret Jug in 2006, and intends to be in the hunt for his first title in 13 months this week at Congressional.
"Expectations don't change. That's the ultimate goal," Woods said. "It's just that it's going to be a little bit harder this time. I just haven't had the amount of prep and reps (preparation and repetitions) that I would like, but I'm good enough to play and I'm going to give it a go."
Woods said he painstakingly followed protocols and "tedious strengthening exercises" and slowly rebuilt his game, progressively hitting 10 yards further when his condition allowed until he was able to swing fully and play practice rounds.
"All the strengthening exercises I've done throughout the years have paid off and have allowed me to get back quicker and to get back to this point," Woods said.
"When you get treatment all the time, it's amazing what you can do."
Woods, who has fallen from atop the world rankings to fifth this week, said he sees only minimal risk of reinjuring himself by returning sooner than first planned, calling it no more than he would face in any typical PGA event.
"I'm going to get stronger as time goes on," Woods said.
"The risk is minimal, and just like it is with every round we play, we can hit behind a tree root and damage something, awkward lies, the little knickknack things that have happened to us that have played at this level. I'm no different in that regard."
Woods, who has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open, said he has not fully regained the explosiveness in his shotmaking that he prizes.
"It still hasn't happened, not to the level that I'm used to being that explosive," Woods said. "That's going to come in time."
Woods says that given the nagging knee, leg and back injuries that have bothered him over the past few years, he is feeling better than he has in some time.
"It has been a very, very long time, probably a good two years since I've felt this way," Woods said.
"I had good weeks where I felt fantastic, and those were the weeks I actually played well. I won five times last year. And then there were weeks where I just couldn't move, 'What is going on here?' And then it started progressively deteriorating from there."
Woods said he consulted friends from other sports about ways to enhance his recovery, with girlfriend and US ski star Lindsey Vonn among them.
"Having friends in other sports, it does help what they went through and what they have done and what their protocols are for their teams," Woods said.
Woods and Vonn will journey to the White House in nearby Washington on Tuesday evening to meet US President Barack Obama at a ceremony to honor the 2013 US Presidents Cup team's triumph.