The last time we saw Tiger Woods at Congressional Country Club, he rinsed a trio of wedges from 100 yards at media day for the Quicken Loans National. He muttered to himself, and groaned as he eased himself out of his seat.
But the Woods in attendance Wednesday morning at a press conference for this week’s Quicken Loans National looked and sounded decidedly peppier.
He was excited about the tournament that benefits his foundation, albeit disappointed he couldn’t play. He spoke hopefully about getting back on the course and competing. Woods glowed when he said that he is now healthy enough to play with his kids.
“I can tell you that I’m getting better,” he said. “The fact that I can play soccer with them and ride bikes … I wasn’t able to do that before.”
And yet Woods, arguably the most dominant golfer ever, spoke candidly about worrying about maintaining his stature in the game even if he does return healthy.
Would he be able to hit it far enough? Tiger Woods openly wondered if Tiger Woods would ever be Tiger Woods again.
“That was one of the things I was worried about was distance off the tee,” he said. “I was worried I’d lose distance … I was just curious how am I going to play going forward?
“Was I going to be able to hit the ball far enough or was I going to be one of those guys who has to lay up on every par 5?”
But Woods added that he’s actually gained distance as part of his rehab, a process he’s not rushing this time around.
He’s back to playing 18 holes, even in consecutive days, he said. He can practice. He can hit shots. His body just isn’t quite ready for tournament golf.
“It’s about me playing 36 holes daily, getting up to speed and playing,” he said. “I’m not quite there yet. I’m trying to get there. I’m trying to get there as fast as I can. I’m trying to do it right at the same time.”
Doing it right is code for not pushing too hard and risking reaggravation of a nagging back injury that he’s dealt with for years. He’s still sore after playing, still can’t do the things he feels he has to do to peg it against the best players in the world.
“I need to get to where I can play 18 holes out here and then got out on the range for an hour and work on my game,” he said.
We’ve heard this refrain before from Woods. “Progressing” is his word du jour. But it’s vague. It doesn’t offer us specifics. Woods won’t rule out a return next week at Bridgestone but he’s been “not ruling out” tournaments all season.
But there was something more earnest about Woods Wednesday than when we last saw him at Congressional.
When he said “I just miss playing,” you could see on his face that he meant it. You could feel it.
“I want to be out there,” he said. “I feel like I should be able to compete against these guys. I miss playing against these guys.”
More than once on Wednesday Woods uttered the phrase “sooner rather than later.”