Bethesda (United States) (AFP) — Tiger Woods says he is feeling as well as he has in two years and sees little re-injury risk this week despite a comeback that is well ahead of schedule.
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 U.S. 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 will tee off at the 10th hole at 8:12 a.m. Thursday alongside Australian Jason Day and young US star Jordan Spieth, both Masters runner-ups still seeking their first major triumph.
It will be the first competitive round for Woods since he fired a 78, the worst final-round score of his pro career, on June 9 at Doral, where he struggled to bend over to pick the ball out of the cup.
“It has been an interesting road,” Woods said. “This has been quite a tedious little process but one where I got to a point where I can play competitive golf again and it’s pretty exciting.”
Woods, still chasing the record 18 major titles won by Jack Nicklaus, said he painstakingly followed exercise protocols and slowly rebuilt his game, progressively hitting 10 yards further when his condition allowed.
“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.”
– ‘My prime is coming up’ –
Woods was able to swing fully with a driver about two weeks ago and began to play practice rounds.
“I wanted to knock off a little bit of rust on the range before I actually went out there and tried not to embarrass myself and I was able to do that, got some holes in, started feeling comfortable,” Woods said.
“I broke 50 for nine, first time, just like I was when I was three. So I’m sneaking up on it. My prime’s coming up.”
Woods, who has fallen from atop the world rankings last month to fifth this week, said he sees only minimal risk of reinjuring himself by returning sooner than first planned.
“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 … I’m no different in that regard.”
Woods, who has not won a major title since the 2008 U.S. 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 in recent 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 and US ski star girlfriend Lindsey Vonn were set to visit 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.
AFP Photo / Mladen Antonov
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