June 24, 2014

Tiger returns to competition pain free in the Quicken Loans National

Calling himself pain free for the first time in two years, Tiger Woods returns to competition this week in the $6.5 million Quicken Loans National at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. Tiger, who also serves as host of the event, last played in early March at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. Shortly afterward, he underwent microdiscectomy surgery for a pinched nerve in his back and began a slow and often tedious rehabilitation.

“It’s been an interesting road,” Woods said Tuesday during a pre-tournament press conference. “We had a game plan for how we were going to do it, and we did it.”

Tiger, winner of 79 PGA TOUR titles and 14 major championships, said he was in constant pain before the surgery and wasn’t sure if he would ever play professional golf again.

“I wasn’t able to function,” he said. “I couldn’t get out of bed.”

The pain subsided immediately after the surgery, and he listened to his doctors, ate nutritious meals, took ice baths and started putting and chipping. To relieve pressure on his back, Tiger filled the cups on his putting green with sand so he wouldn’t have to bend over to pick up the ball.

With no setbacks, Woods gradually began hitting his short irons and increased distance about 10 yards every two days, eventually working up to his driver. He recently began playing holes and said his back has held up well.

“I wanted to knock off a little rust on the range to try not to embarrass myself on the golf course,” he said.

Working with swing coach Sean Foley, Tiger has made slight alterations in his swing to take pressure off his back.

“We made a few tweaks here and there, nothing major,” Woods said. “It looks the same as it did before. I may not go at it as hard.” 

Tiger initially targeted The Open Championship next month at Royal Liverpool in England as his return date, but said he is ahead of schedule.

“I healed fast,” he said.

His doctors credited his training and great overall condition for speeding up the recovery process.

“I have zero arthritic changes in my lower back,” Woods said.

Tiger admitted he wanted to play this week to support his new title sponsor, Quicken Loans, and isn’t sure how he will perform. Proceeds from the tournament benefit the Tiger Woods Foundation and local charities. The event has raised $17 million, paving the way for three Tiger Woods Learning Centers and 25 local Earl Woods Scholarships.

On Tuesday night, Tiger and girlfriend Lindsey Vonn will visit the White House with Darion Parker, an Earl Woods Scholarship recipient and recent Georgetown University graduate, as President Obama honors the 2013 U.S. and International Presidents Cup teams. 

“If this wasn’t the foundation and our impact that we can have with kids, I probably would not have played,” he said. “Overall, I’m going to get stronger as time goes on. The risk is minimal.”

That said, winning will be his goal when he tees off Thursday in the first round.

“Expectations don’t change,” said Tiger, making his fifth official start on the PGA TOUR this year. “Winning is the ultimate goal. It’s just that it’s going to be a little bit harder this time. I just haven’t had the amount of preps and reps that I would like, but I’m good enough to play and I am going to give it a go.”

Woods, who previously won this tournament in 2009 and 2012, begins first-round play on the 10th tee at 8:12 a.m. ET with Jason Day and Jordan Spieth. Other notable names in the field include Ernie Els, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Dufner, Justin Rose, K.J. Choi, Keegan Bradley, Bill Haas, Angel Cabrera, Retief Goosen, Erik Compton and rookies Patrick Rodgers and Oliver Goss.

Once again, the Quicken Loans National will distribute 30,000 free tickets to service men and women and their families to show support for the military.