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Rusty Woods opens with a 74 at Congressional

(Reuters) – A rusty Tiger Woods sampled the good, the bad and the ugly as he opened with a three-over-par 74 at the Quicken Loans National in Bethesda, Maryland on Thursday in his first competitive round in three months.

Finally back in action after having surgery to repair a pinched nerve in his back in March, the 14-times major winner mixed four birdies with seven bogeys and seven pars to finish eight shots off the early lead.

“The hard part was just getting into the rhythm of playing competitively,” Woods, who missed the first two majors this year while out on the sidelines, told reporters.

“You play with your buddies all day for cash and stuff but it’s just not the same. It’s not the same as tournament golf, different level.

“(Here) adrenaline is rushing and I hit the ball further out here than I do at home. It unfortunately took a while to get the feel for it. That didn’t start happening until midway through my front nine.”

Woods, whose charity foundation is benefited by the PGA Tour event played at Congressional Country Club, made an erratic start after teeing off at the 10th, recording five bogeys in his first nine holes to reach the turn in four-over 39.

He then dropped further shots at the second and third, where he found a greenside bunker with his approach, before finding his groove on a difficult layout to inch his way a little higher up the leaderboard.

Woods sank birdie putts from inside five feet at the fourth, seventh and eighth to come home in a highly creditable one-under 35.

MIXED BAG

His overall statistics were something of a mixed bag as he hit nine of 14 fairways and reached 10 of 18 greens in regulation while scrambling a par only once in seven attempts when out of position.

“I made so many little mistakes,” said the 38-year-old American, who won this tournament in 2009 and 2012. “But I played a lot better than the score indicated, which is good.”

Asked how he felt physically after ending a three-month absence from the PGA Tour, Woods replied: “I had no issues at all. No twinges, no nothing. It felt fantastic.

“I unfortunately have been in my career on the sidelines enough, so it’s always fun to come back out here and play against these guys, the best players in the world … and see what I can do.”

Woods has been increasingly plagued by injuries in recent seasons as the wear and tear of years on the tour have begun to take a toll.

He failed to finish the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic at Palm Beach Gardens in early March, quitting after 13 holes in his final round, then tweaked his back again on the last day of the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Miami just one week later.

Woods pulled out of the Mar. 20-23 Arnold Palmer Invitational, a key lead-up tournament he has won eight times, in the hope that he could play at the Masters before he opted to undergo surgery on March 31.

He ended up missing the Masters, in April, and the U.S. Open at Pinehurst earlier this month but will compete in the year’s third major, the British Open at Hoylake, from July 17-20.

Australian Greg Chalmers was the early leader at Congressional on Thursday, birdies on his last three holes propelling him to a five-under-par 66.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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Rusty Woods opens with a 74 at Congressional

Golf-Rusty Woods opens with a 74 at Congressional

* Woods takes a while to find rhythm and ‘feel’

* Finishes at three over after three late birdies (Adds detail, quotes)

June 26 (Reuters) – A rusty Tiger Woods sampled the good, the bad and the ugly as he opened with a three-over-par 74 at the Quicken Loans National in Bethesda, Maryland on Thursday in his first competitive round in three months.

Finally back in action after having surgery to repair a pinched nerve in his back in March, the 14-times major winner mixed four birdies with seven bogeys and seven pars to finish eight shots off the early lead.

“The hard part was just getting into the rhythm of playing competitively,” Woods, who missed the first two majors this year while out on the sidelines, told reporters.

“You play with your buddies all day for cash and stuff but it’s just not the same. It’s not the same as tournament golf, different level.

“(Here) adrenaline is rushing and I hit the ball further out here than I do at home. It unfortunately took a while to get the feel for it. That didn’t start happening until midway through my front nine.”

Woods, whose charity foundation is benefited by the PGA Tour event played at Congressional Country Club, made an erratic start after teeing off at the 10th, recording five bogeys in his first nine holes to reach the turn in four-over 39.

He then dropped further shots at the second and third, where he found a greenside bunker with his approach, before finding his groove on a difficult layout to inch his way a little higher up the leaderboard.

Woods sank birdie putts from inside five feet at the fourth, seventh and eighth to come home in a highly creditable one-under 35.

MIXED BAG

His overall statistics were something of a mixed bag as he hit nine of 14 fairways and reached 10 of 18 greens in regulation while scrambling a par only once in seven attempts when out of position.

“I made so many little mistakes,” said the 38-year-old American, who won this tournament in 2009 and 2012. “But I played a lot better than the score indicated, which is good.”

Asked how he felt physically after ending a three-month absence from the PGA Tour, Woods replied: “I had no issues at all. No twinges, no nothing. It felt fantastic.

“I unfortunately have been in my career on the sidelines enough, so it’s always fun to come back out here and play against these guys, the best players in the world … and see what I can do.”

Woods has been increasingly plagued by injuries in recent seasons as the wear and tear of years on the tour have begun to take a toll.

He failed to finish the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic at Palm Beach Gardens in early March, quitting after 13 holes in his final round, then tweaked his back again on the last day of the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Miami just one week later.

Woods pulled out of the Mar. 20-23 Arnold Palmer Invitational, a key lead-up tournament he has won eight times, in the hope that he could play at the Masters before he opted to undergo surgery on March 31.

He ended up missing the Masters, in April, and the U.S. Open at Pinehurst earlier this month but will compete in the year’s third major, the British Open at Hoylake, from July 17-20.

Australian Greg Chalmers was the early leader at Congressional on Thursday, birdies on his last three holes propelling him to a five-under-par 66. (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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Golf-Rusty Woods opens with a 74 at Congressional

U.S. Open champion Kaymer down the field on German return

(Reuters) – Martin Kaymer, back in action for the first time since his U.S. Open victory this month, was hampered by a cold putter as he posted a one-under-par 71 in the first round of the BMW International in his native Germany on Thursday.

The two-time major winner was tied in 66th place at Gut Larchenhof outside Duesseldorf, seven strokes adrift of joint leaders Danny Willett of Britain and Spaniard Rafa Cabrera-Bello.

World number two Henrik Stenson of Sweden was well placed on 68, while eighth-ranked Sergio Garcia also returned a 71.

“It was a tough day for me on the greens,” Kaymer told reporters. “It was probably the worst I can do.

“There are so many people that come out and expect you to play well and they expect you to play at least as good as two weeks ago. That’s the way Germans are, but you have to lower your expectations.”

Willett won the BMW International two years ago and clearly has a fondness for the tournament.

“It’s always nice to come back to a place where you have won,” the Englishman said. “You remember where you hit shots from and did certain things from … you kind of know your way around a bit more.”

Cabrera-Bello was particularly pleased with the consistency he showed.

“What I enjoyed most about the round was that I played pretty steady and I didn’t have a real high or any lows,” he said. “I just played steady golf in the entire four and a half hours that we were out there.”

Denmark’s Anders Hansen and Alvaro Quiros of Spain were among seven players sharing third place on 66.

(Writing by Tony Jimenez, editing by David Goodman)

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U.S. Open champion Kaymer down the field on German return

Tiger makes woeful start to first comeback round

Bethesda (United States) (AFP) – Tiger Woods struggled Thursday with five bogeys in the opening nine holes of his first competitive round after a three-month injury layoff, making the turn at four-over par 39.

Woods showed troubles off the tee and with his putter in his long-awaited return after a 109-day absence Congressional Country Club’s back nine in the opening round of the $6.5 million US PGA National.

Teeing off at the 10th hole to cheers and applause, Woods stumbled with back-to-back bogeys, answered with a birdie at the 14th, but took another bogey at 15, missed a six-foot birdie putt at the par-5 16th to settle for par and closed with back-to-back bogeys.

Chasing Jack Nicklaus’ all-time record of 18 major titles, Woods hopes to play his way into shape this week ahead of next month’s British Open at Royal Liverpool, where the 14-time major winner took the Claret Jug in 2006.

Woods, who has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open, had not played in any event since March 9 following back surgery on March 31 to relieve a pinched nerve.

He had not played a competitive round since he fired a 78, the worst final-round score of his pro career, at Doral, where he struggled to bend over to pick the ball out of the cup.

Woods spent months recuperating and slowly progressing to the point where he could swing a driver at full strength and continues to take physiotherapy exercises.

The 38-year-old American, feeling fully pain-free for the first time in two years and recovering ahead of schedule, received doctors’ approval to make his comeback at the National, a PGA event which benefits his charity foundation.

Woods began his comeback at the par-71 layout’s par-3 10th hole, sending his tee shot over the green and into a bunker. He blasted out to 17 feet then slid his par attempt three feet beyond the cup.

At 11, Woods left his approach short of the green and missed an 18-foot par putt.

But at 14, Woods dropped a 174-yard approach shot nine feet from the pin and made the putt for the first birdie of his comeback.

Woods pulled his next tee shot left into the rough and went on to miss a 13-foot putt and settle for bogey at 15.

After missing his short birdie try at 16, Woods also failed on a testy seven-foot par putt at 17 and then found the right rough off the 18th tee and missed an 11-foot par putt.

Woods seeks his 80th career PGA title, two shy of Sam Snead’s all-time record, and his third victory in the National after titles in 2009 and 2012, but expected to be rusty at the start.

“I just haven’t had the amount of prep and reps (preparation and repetitions) that I would like,” Woods said two days ago. “But I’m good enough to play and I’m going to give it a go.”

Woods will play the first two rounds alongside Australian Jason Day and 20-year-old US star Jordan Spieth, both still seeking a first major triumph.

Woods’ most recent victory came last August at the World Golf Championships event in Akron, Ohio.

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Tiger makes woeful start to first comeback round

Tiger opens with bogey in injury layoff comeback

Bethesda (United States) (AFP) – Tiger Woods made his long-awaited return to competition Thursday morning after a 109-day injury layoff, making a bogey to start his opening round at the $6.5 million US PGA National.

Cheers and applause from about 200 spectators greeted Woods just behind the clubhouse as he teed off in warm and sunny conditions at Congressional Country Club’s 218-yard, par-3 10th hole.

Well-wishers gave Woods several “Go Tiger” yells as he walked from the practice putting green to the 10th tee.

Woods, wearing a green shirt with black pants, smacked his tee shot over the green and into a bunker, then blasted out 17 feet from the cup and slid his par attempt three feet past the hole.

The 14-time major champion, chasing the all-time record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, had not played in any event since March 9 following back surgery on March 31 to relieve a pinched nerve.

“Back feels great, which is a really good sign,” Woods said after a final practice round Wednesday.

Woods had not played a competitive round since he fired a 78, the worst final-round score of his pro career, at Doral, where he struggled to bend over to pick the ball out of the cup.

Woods spent months recuperating and slowly progressing to the point where he could swing a driver at full strength and continues to take physiotherapy exercises.

The 38-year-old American, who has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open, had originally targeted making his comeback next month at the British Open at Royal Liverpool, where he won the Claret Jug in 2006.

But feeling pain-free for the first time in two years and recovering ahead of schedule, Woods got the approval of doctors to make his comeback at the National, a PGA event which benefits his charity foundation.

Woods seeks his 80th career PGA title, two shy of Sam Snead’s all-time record, and his third victory in the National after titles in 2009 and 2012, but admits he expects to be rusty.

“I just haven’t had the amount of prep and reps (preparation and repetitions) that I would like,” Woods said. “But I’m good enough to play and I’m going to give it a go.”

Woods will play the first two rounds alongside Australian Jason Day and 20-year-old US star Jordan Spieth, both still seeking a first major triumph.

Woods’ most recent victory came last August at the World Golf Championships event in Akron, Ohio.

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Tiger opens with bogey in injury layoff comeback

Woods feels ‘great’ in Congressional tune-up

BETHESDA Maryland (Reuters) – Tiger Woods said he felt “great” after playing the Quicken Loans National Pro-Am on Wednesday at Congressional Country Club where he will return to competition on Thursday following a three-month absence.

“Which is a really good sign,” the former long-time world number one added about his comeback after surgery to repair a pinched nerve in his back.

Woods is set to tee off in Thursday’s opening round with emerging 20-year-old American Jordan Spieth and Australian Jason Day in the morning wave at 8:12 a.m. ET (1212 GMT).

Woods was a bit rusty in the Pro-Am, making one birdie and a single bogey, but the winner of 79 PGA Tour events, including 14 major championships, was basically pleased.

“Generally it feels good,” said Woods, who on Tuesday told reporters he felt more pain-free than he had in two years. “I hit some loose shots today but I also hit some really good ones.”

Woods, host of the Quicken Loans tournament which benefits his charity foundation, said Congressional was no easy test.

“This golf course is playing tough,” Woods said of the site of the 2011 U.S. Open. “The guys aren’t going to go really low here.”

(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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Woods feels ‘great’ in Congressional tune-up

Aging Tiger adapts to cope with injury, young foes

Bethesda (United States) (AFP) – Tiger Woods has followed the example of basketball star Michael Jordan and adapted his golf game while aging, youthful overpowering long drives now replaced by other skills and strategy.

“I feel old,” Woods admitted as he prepared to return from a three-month injury layoff in Thursday’s opening round of the $6.5 million US PGA National.

Citing then-14-year-old Chinese schoolboy Guan Tianlang’s low amateur turn at last year’s Masters, the 38-year-old American noted: “He was born after I won the tournament (in 1997). That’s just not cool.

“That’s what’s coming, the next generation. And they are taller, bigger, more physical, just like in all sports.”

Jordan, who won six NBA titles in the 1990s with the Chicago Bulls, altered his game from high-leaping slam dunks and acrobatic moves at the start of the title run to fadeaway jump shots and improved passing in later years.

“As I’ve aged, I can’t play the way I used to, but, just like MJ, I’ve got a fadeaway now,” Woods said. “I’ve had to rely on different parts of my game and strategy and understand how course management skills are improved, where to miss it, how to miss it.

“It has allowed me to be as consistent as I have over the course of my career.”

Woods, a 14-time major winner chasing the all-time record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, must win next month’s British Open or the PGA Championship in August to avoid falling behind the age pace of Nicklaus for the first time in his career.

But Woods has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open, a six-year drought.

Nagging injuries to his knees, back and legs have forced Woods to be patient with injuries, never moreso than the microdiscectomy surgery he underwent in March to ease the pain of a pinched nerve.

“Listen to my body, that’s one thing that I have learned, stubbornly, over the years, that I have to do,” he said. “I just couldn’t play through this. In the past, I probably would have pushed through it and set myself back and then kept pushing harder and harder and harder until stuff breaks.”

Having two children with Elin Nordegren, who divorced him in 2010 in the wake of an epic sex scandal, has taught Woods much as well.

“I think about that old adage, with age comes wisdom, and I have certainly become much more patient,” he said.

“Having two little ones, that has definitely taught me a lot of patience and it has carried over into my golf. That part of me has certainly changed over the years.

“I just remember all the early years on tour when I used to run 30 miles a week and just push it, no matter how hurt I was. I would just go out there, still logging all the miles and do all the different things and still play tournament golf and I was winning, but I didn’t realize how much damage I was doing to my body. I have to now pick my spots when I can and can’t push.

“Before, when you’re young, I just pushed it all the time. But now I’ve got to listen to my body, listen to my therapist and then get treatment.”

Woods could feel the hunger to play growing as his body neared being well enough to return.

“As I got a little bit closer to feeling where I could compete, I was starting to get the itch,” Woods said.

“But I knew that I had to go through my own progression first.”

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Aging Tiger adapts to cope with injury, young foes

Rivals excited to see Tiger chase Nicklaus again

Bethesda (United States) (AFP) – It’s hard not to get excited about seeing a healthy Tiger Woods resume his quest to beat Jack Nicklaus’ major win record, even for those rivals trying to beat him.

Woods, a 14-time major champion still four majors shy of matching Nicklaus’ mark, returns from a three-month injury lay-off Thursday at the $6.5 million USPGA National.

The 38-year-old American, who has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open, has an eye on next month’s British Open and the PGA Championship in August and closing the major win gap on his boyhood idol.

“You’ve got a guy that’s reaching almost 40 who is the best player of his generation, trying to become the best player of all time, so it’s really exciting times,” four-time major winner Ernie Els of South Africa said.

“He feels like he’s really healthy and that’s a positive.”

Woods has had to adjust his swing to ease the stress on his knees and back but remains driven to overtake golf’s most iconic record.

“Tiger’s swing has changed through the years. He’s changed it because of his body,” Els said. “But he’s got the strongest mind out here.

“So I think with that in mind, I think he’s got a real good chance of still breaking Jack Nicklaus’ record.”

Woods has not played since struggling to a 78, his worst-ever final-round score, at Doral on March 9.

Since then, Woods underwent a microdiscectomy to ease pressure on a pinched nerve and spent the past three months slowly working himself back to health, missing the Masters for the first time in his career and the US Open just two weeks ago.

But having Woods healthy and at his best against the world’s top players has restored a spark that golf lacks without him, according to 2013 US Open winner Justin Rose of England.

“There’s always a fascination in terms of watching Tiger play golf and the run that he’s been on throughout his career and what he still has to achieve in terms of his goals,” Rose said.

“I think golf will get really exciting if he starts winning a couple more majors and the race to 18 becomes incredibly on again. That’s incredibly exciting for the game of golf and will draw a lot more interest in the game once again.”

This week’s event at Congressional Country Club is a Woods warm-up for the British Open in three weeks at Royal Liverpool, where Woods won the Claret Jug in 2006. Three weeks after that comes the year’s final major tournament, the PGA Championship at Valhalla, where Woods won it in 2000.

“He’s chasing history,” Els said. “He’s in a position unlike any other player currently playing the sport that he can change history, so that’s really important for him and for golf going forward. It’s going to be really interesting. It’s going to be an exciting time for himself and for the fans to see what he can do.”

Australian Jason Day, a Masters and US Open runner-up added: “It’s fantastic to see him back on the golf course. I think golf needs Tiger in the game.

“Obviously he has changed the game for us. It’s pretty special to see him back. He has always been a hero of mine as I was growing up.”

Playing this week should boost Woods’ chances of again contending for a major crown at Royal Liverpool.

“No matter who, there’s an element of getting the rust off and if I was Tiger Woods I would probably be looking at the Open and the decision to play here is because he doesn’t want to be rusty at the Open,” Rose said.

“He always talks about being here to win and I’m sure that is the case but I’m sure there could be an element of looking a week or two ahead for the Open.”

Woods will play alongside Australian Jason Day and US star Jordan Spieth in the first two rounds.

“It’s fantastic to see him back on the golf course. I think golf needs Tiger in the game,” Day said. “It’s pretty special to see him back. He has always been a hero of mine.”

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Rivals excited to see Tiger chase Nicklaus again

Woods back faster to benefit his charity foundation

(Reuters) – Tiger Woods’ recovery from back surgery was quicker than expected but he said he probably would not have returned at this week’s Quicken Loans National event in Maryland unless it benefited his charity foundation.

“If this wasn’t the foundation and the impact that we can have on kids, I probably would not,” the four-times major winner told reporters at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda on Tuesday about ending his three-month absence.

“Our goal was the British Open (next month). I healed extremely fast thanks to my physios and my nutrition. All the different things that we did…have allowed me to get to this point.”

Woods said he did not think he was coming back too soon.

“I’m going to get stronger as time goes on,” he said, “the risk is minimal.”

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Woods back faster to benefit his charity foundation

Fast-healing Tiger feels great, no reinjury fear

Bethesda (United States) (AFP) – Tiger Woods returns to competition Thursday saying he is pain free and healthy for the first time in two years and eager to add to his 14 major titles.

The 38-year-old American, sidelined for three months following back surgery to ease a pinched nerve, begins his comeback at the $6.5 million US PGA National at Congressional Country Club.

“I’m actually probably ahead of schedule, where everyone thought I would be at,” Woods said. “It has been a very, very long time, probably a good two years since I’ve felt this way.”

Woods admitted Tuesday that he probably would not have returned this week if it were not an event that benefits his charity foundation, his original goal having been to return in three weeks at the British Open at Royal Liverpool.

“We all thought the British Open would be my first event back, but I healed fast,” said Woods, who credited his physical therapists and attention to nutrition with speeding his recovery.

Woods, who was toppled from atop the world rankings last month and is rated fifth this week, says that despite the nagging knee, leg and back injuries that have bothered him in recent years, he sees only minimal risk of reinjuring himself by returning sooner than first planned.

“I’m going to get stronger as time goes on,” Woods said. “The risk is minimal, and just like it is with every round we play, we can hit behind a tree root and damage something… I’m no different in that regard.”

Woods last lifted a major trophy at the 2008 US Open. He confirmed that he plans to resume his quest to pass the all-time record of 18 major titles won by Jack Nicklaus in the British Open next month at Royal Liverpool, where he won the Claret Jug in 2006.

This week, Woods is aiming at winning his first title in 13 months and 80th career PGA crown.

“Expectations don’t change. That’s the ultimate goal,” Woods said. “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 (preparation and repetitions) that I would like, but I’m good enough to play and I’m going to give it a go.”

Woods will tee off at the 10th hole at 8:12 a.m. (12:12 GMT) Thursday alongside Australian Jason Day and young US star Jordan Spieth, both still seeking a first major triumph after runner-up finishes at the Masters.

It will be the first competitive round for Woods since he fired a 78, the worst final-round score of his pro career, on June 9 at Doral, where he struggled to bend over to pick the ball out of the cup.

“It has been an interesting road,” Woods said. “This has been quite a tedious little process but one where I got to a point where I can play competitive golf again and it’s pretty exciting.”

Woods said he painstakingly followed exercise protocols and slowly rebuilt his game, progressively hitting 10 yards further when his condition allowed.

“All the strengthening exercises I’ve done throughout the years have paid off and have allowed me to get back quicker and to get back to this point,” Woods said.

“When you get treatment all the time, it’s amazing what you can do.”

– ‘My prime is coming up’ –

Woods was able to swing fully with a driver about two weeks ago and began to play practice rounds.

“I wanted to knock off a little bit of rust on the range before I actually went out there and tried not to embarrass myself and I was able to do that, got some holes in, started feeling comfortable,” Woods said.

“I broke 50 for nine, first time, just like I was when I was three. So I’m sneaking up on it. My prime’s coming up.”

Woods said he has not fully regained the explosiveness in his shotmaking that he prizes.

“It still hasn’t happened, not to the level that I’m used to being that explosive,” Woods said. “That’s going to come in time.”

Woods visited the White House on Tuesday to again meet US President Barack Obama at a ceremony to honor the 2013 US Presidents Cup team’s triumph, in which Woods took the clinching point.

“I’ve been there several times. It’s always an interesting experience,” Woods said, recalling one visit when Obama kept some important-looking people waiting so he could talk about sports with Woods.

“I felt awful that I’m holding up a Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting because he wanted to talk sports,” Woods said.

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Fast-healing Tiger feels great, no reinjury fear

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