Tiger Wood conceded on Tuesday that he may be returning to competitive golf too soon after undergoing back surgery at the end of March.
Woods’ charitable arm benefits from three PGA Tour events, including this week’s Quicken Loans National, at which the former No. 1 will make his latest comeback from a litany of injuries he has suffered throughout his career. But for the connection between the tournament and the Tiger Woods Foundation, the 14-time major champion would likely have waited to tee it up until next month’s British Open.
"If this wasn’t the foundation and our impact on what we can have with kids, I probably would not [return this week]," Woods told reporters at Congressional Country Club after playing an early-morning practice round. "Our goal was the British Open and I healed extremely fast."
Woods met the press a day after dropping to No. 5 in the world rankings and ahead of Tuesday night’s visit to President Obama at the White House with girlfriend Lindsey Vonn, the winning 2013 U.S. Presidents Cup team, and an Earl Woods scholar.
Tiger, who won the National in 2009 and 2012, said the goal was to brush off the rust and get tourney-ready for the Open Championship at Hoylake, which starts on July 17, as well as try to qualify for the FedExCup playoff series.
"Do I expect to [play at Royal Liverpool]? Yeah," he said. "I’m just trying to get in the playoffs somehow."
Woods has compiled a skimpy 43 FedExCup points in three eligible starts in 2014. He needs 269 points just to get into the top 125 who qualify for The Barclays in late August.
Given the pressure of making the playoffs and getting a couple more tries at winning his 15th major, after missing the Masters and the U.S. Open, might Woods be pushing it to return so soon after his March 31 microdiscectomy? The 38-year-old winner of 79 tour titles suggested that could be the case.
"Expectations [of winning every tournament he starts] 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 that I would like but I’m good enough to play and I’m going to give it a go."
While Woods may pay lip service to his career-long goal of walking off victorious each time he tees it up, simply getting through 72 holes of golf (should he make the cut) pain-free would appear to be challenging enough. Prior to giving into the injury that resulted in the procedure, Tiger had gotten off to the worst start of his career, including carding his first-ever 54-hole missed cut and wincing and grabbing his back in agony in his last competitive round on March 9 at Doral.
This week’s game will be just the sixth overall of Tiger’s injury-shortened season, which included a playoff loss to Zach Johnson at the World Challenge in December and a T41 in Dubai in February. Though conceding he might have given himself more time to rebound, Woods said he and his medical team stuck to a schedule of putting, chipping, and full swings, and backing off if and when discomfort set in.
"We had a game plan for how we were going to do that, and we did it, and I've been able to play and hit balls and hit drivers and go out there and do whatever I wanted to do," he said.
He also credited his much-maligned workout regimen for putting him in shape to withstand the surgery and bounce back "ahead of schedule." Woods points to athletes in other sports with similar issues who noted the importance of having strong cores heading into the operating room.
"That's one of the reasons I was able to bounce back fast," said Woods. "When [the surgeons] went in, I had zero arthritic changes in my lower back ... 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."
As for his post-op routine, Woods said that after he was able to take full cuts a couple of weeks ago, he hit the course for the first time since going down, which took him back to his "Mike Douglas Show" days.
"I broke 50 for nine," Woods quipped, "just like I was when I was three."