Tiger Woods finally feels healthy.
“It’s been a good two years since I’ve felt this way,” Woods said in his pre-tournament press conference at the Quicken Loans National on Tuesday morning at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland.
Woods will tee it up on Thursday in his first competitive round since March 9. He made his first public appearance in golf shoes since he walked gingerly off the golf course at Doral on March 9 with back pain that first presented itself in August 2012. He had back surgery to alleviate a pinched nerve on March 31.
"It's been an interesting road," Woods said. "This has been quite a tedious little process, but been one where I got to a point where I can play competitive golf again. And it's pretty exciting."
The return is ahead of schedule. Initially, Woods had targeted next month's Open Championship for his return, but he healed fast. Cold baths, anti-inflammatory meals and constant treatment were part of the daily recovery plan.
The Tiger Woods Foundation runs the Quicken Loans National, and Woods admitted he would not have picked this event to return if that connection wasn’t there.
“If this wasn’t the foundation, I probably would not (be playing),” Woods said. “Our goal was the British Open. I healed extremely fast. All the steps we’ve done along the way have allowed me to get to this point."
Woods is no stranger to injuries, but the back pain he has suffered from the last year was unlike anything he had ever experienced.
“Pre-procedure, I wasn’t able to function,” Woods said. “I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t do any normal activities. When I blew out my knee, I could do still things. I could still function. That pain down my leg was gone as soon as I got out of surgery. You feel like you have your life back.”
After the procedure, Woods said he could resume putting right out of the recovery room. But he couldn’t bend over to get the ball out of the cup. To protect his back, he filled the holes on his backyard putting green with sand. He knew if the putt would have gone in without having to strain his back to pick it up from the cup.
There is a dose of reality, however, when it comes to winning. Attribute that to age (38), the experience of nearly 20 years on tour and having gone through so many recent seasons interrupted by injuries.
"Expectations don't change," Woods said. "That's 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 prep and reps that I would like. But I'm good enough to play, and I'm going to give it a go."
Except for nine holes he wishes he didn't play at The Players Championship in 2011, this is the second time in four years he has missed a three-month portion of the season. He didn't play the U.S. Open and British Open three years ago while letting leg injuries fully heal.
The difference this time was his lifestyle. Woods said he couldn't function in the weeks leading to his microdiscectomy surgery at the end of March.
"Anyone that has had any kind of nerve impingement, it's not a joke," he said. "That part was relieved as soon as I got out of the surgery. That nerve impingement, that pain that I was feeling going down my leg was gone. I've heard numerous people talk about it, and I've had people come up to me and say they had the same procedure and got their life back and that's basically how I felt. I was able to do things, and do things that I normally took for granted."
That now includes golf at the highest level.
@TigerWoods After having back surgery myself, I know what you have gone thru. I wish you well as you re-enter the competitive world of golf.— Greg Norman (@SharkGregNorman) June 24, 2014
The Associated Press contributed to this report.