BETHESDA, United States (AFP) ― Tiger Woods was pleased with his final practice round before returning to competition after a three-month injury layoff, saying Wednesday he is still rusty but his back feels fine.
“Generally it feels good,” Woods said. “I hit some loose shots today but I also hit some really good ones. Back feels great which is a really good sign.”
Woods played a morning pro-Am round ahead of his Thursday morning start at the $6.5 million U.S. PGA National at Congressional Country Club.
The former world number one has not played a competitive round since March 9 following back surgery to ease a pinched nerve, but hopes to test his game at this event, which he won in 2009 and 2012, ahead of next month’s British Open.
|Tiger Woods tees off during the practice round on Wednesday. (USA TODAY-Yonhap)|
“A little bit rusty but really manage my way around this golf course,” Woods said. “This golf course is playing tough. The guys aren’t going to go really low here.
“Just got to keep it in front of me and obviously put the ball in the right spots on these greens because if you’re in the wrong spots, it’s an unfortunately tough task to make birdies.”
Woods, a 14-time major winner chasing the all-time record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, has not won a major title since the 2008 U.S. Open.
He won five tour titles last year, leaving him three shy of matching Sam Snead’s all-time record of 82 PGA victories.
Woods continues to undergo therapy around serving as tournament host for the event, which benefits his charity foundation.
The 38-year-old American, who has sunk to fifth in the world rankings, tees off Thursday at 8:12 a.m. alongside Australian Jason Day and U.S. star Jordan Spieth on the 10th hole.
“The course is drying out pretty good,” Woods said. “The ball started running. The course was playing really long.”
Woods blasted out of uneven lies and deep rough several times, something he said was not a major re-injury issue for his back after having tested it in such situations.
“I tried it out last week and didn’t have any problem,” Woods said.
He did blame a poor tee shot at the 18th on a grip issue.
“My grip got a bit weak. I was losing the ball to the right so just got to strengthen it up,” Woods said.
Woods will command the greatest attention but plenty of other contenders will be taking aim at the $1.17 million top prize.
South African star Ernie Els, who won one of his two U.S. Open titles at Congressional, will play alongside 2013 U.S. Open winner Justin Rose of England and American Keegan Bradley in the first two rounds.
Defending champion Bill Haas tees off alongside fellow American Jason Dufner, last year’s PGA Championship winner, and South Korea’s Choi Kyung-ju, but Haas knows most eyes will be on Woods.
“The vibe generally is we’re all excited to see him play well and we all want to beat him, because nobody cares if they beat me, they want to beat Tiger,” Haas said.
“We want him to play healthy and we want him to contend in majors because he’s the lifeline of our tour and the reason everyone gets excited to watch.”
When it comes to Woods, Haas has great expectations.
“I would expect nothing other than a good score from him,” Haas said. “Just that’s who he is and what he does.”