Tiger Woods would return to competitive golf today if it were up to him. The sidelined second-ranked player in the world will, however, have to rely on his spine surgeons to determine when he’ll be back and it’s unlikely that will occur before the U.S. Open tees off in less than a month.
Setting no timetable for when he’ll be able to swing a club again, let alone compete at the highest level or play catch with his kids, Woods said the microdiscectomy he underwent on March 31 was extremely painful but it will allow him to continue trying to break Jack Nicklaus majors record.
"Prior to the surgery, I didn't think I would have much of a playing career if I felt like this because ... I couldn't get out of bed," Woods told reporters at Congressional Country Club where he was on Monday to promote next month’s Quicken Loans National, which he hosts and which benefits his foundation.
"Now that I've had the procedure, I'm excited about what the prospects hold, that I'm able to feel this way, and if that's the case, then I'm excited about my career," said Woods, who missed the Masters in April and has been stuck on 14 major titles since 2008. "I'm able to do what I want to do for as long as I want to ... Right before the surgery, that wasn't the case."
The immediate aftermath of the surgery was "debilitating," said Woods, who has had more than his share of injuries, including but not limited to problems with his fabled left knee, elbow, Achilles tendon, and neck.
"Sore, pain. Those are all things that are going to go away," he observed. "This has been a different procedure than I’ve had in the past, certainly a lot more tedious."
Prior to the operation, Woods said trying to block Adam Scott from usurping his position atop the world golf rankings, which the Aussie did on Monday, was nowhere on his wish list.
''Forget about playing golf at the highest level. I couldn't get out of bed,'' he repeated. ''I was certainly doubtful at that point. What's it going to feel like? Am I going to be pain-free? Am I going to be able to actually do this again, where I can to get out of bed, and go out there and play with my kids and play golf? All those things were up in the air.''
The last time Woods chatted with the media was when he announced on March 24 that his Bethesda, Md., tourney had moved on from AT&T and had inked Quicken Loans to a sponsorship pact. Seven days later, surgery knocked him out of the Masters for the first time in his professional career and raised questions about his eventual return to the course.
Earlier this month, a chatty Woods said on his website that his recovery was slow and he had no idea when he would next tee it up on the PGA Tour. In the interim, Tiger whisperer Notah Begay and fellow bad back-sufferer Suzann Pettersen have raised doubts about Woods’ ability to get back in shape in time for the June 12 start to the U.S. Open at Pinehurst.
Woods offered commissioner Tim Finchem no reason to believe he would see the tour’s cash cow on the tee at a major or any other tournament any time soon. He said he would probably need at least two weeks to get tourney-ready once he’s cleared to resume regular golfing activities.
"I think that’s been kind of the realization to all of this is that there’s no date," said Woods. "It’s just take it on a daily basis. It’s not going to be up to me whether I play or not. It’s going to be up to my docs. Obviously, I want to play now."
When he does get back -- and Woods certainly left no doubt his return was a "when" and not an "if" situation -- Tiger said he hoped to write the final chapter of his playing career.
''I would like to, as all athletes, go out on my own terms,'' he said.
As the 38-year-old winner of 79 tour events has noted on numerous occasions, Nicklaus was 46 when he captured the last of his 18 major titles. While that’s a target that technically gives Woods time to grab five more, Tiger fell behind Jack when he failed to win last year at Augusta.
Entering Masters at age 37, Jack Nicklaus: 14 majors in 60 starts as pro. Tiger Woods entering '13 Masters: 14 majors in 60 starts as pro.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) March 5, 2013
"Ultimately," said Woods, who’ll be 39 when the 2014 season begins, "I want to continue playing at an elite level as long as I deem I want to do it. For some guys it's in their 60s and 70s, and other guys it's in their 40s and 50s."