Nick Wass / AP
Tuesday, June 24, 2014 | 11:01 a.m.
BETHESDA, Md. — Tiger Woods returns to golf with big hopes, realistic expectations and no pain for the first time in nearly two years.
Woods 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.
Asked for an opening comment on where he is with his recovery, Woods smiled and said, "I'm right here."
"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."
It feels that way for all of golf, which has been without its biggest draw for five tournaments that he ordinarily would have played, including the Masters for the first time, the U.S. Open and two events where he was the defending champion.
Woods said the British Open was his target all along, and he might not be playing the Quicken Loans National this week at Congressional if it did not benefit his foundation. That's not to suggest he is coming back too early. Woods said he has been in constant contact with doctors and trainers as he slowly expanded his swing from chipping and putting to wedges, all the way up the bag to the driver, and then playing at home in South Florida.
He said he often stood on the back of the cart to avoid sitting. Early on in the recovery, he filled the holes on his practice green with sand so he wouldn't stoop too much to pluck the ball from the cup.
Woods is famous for saying he doesn't enter any tournament if he doesn't think he can win. That much hasn't changed for Congressional, where he has won twice.
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.
He was dressed in the company colors of his latest endorsement for his bag (MusclePharm), and headed out to the golf course to practice before a White House visit Tuesday afternoon with the Presidents Cup team from last year, when Woods made the clinching putt.