Tiger Woods expects to win every golf tournament he enters. To dominate like Woods has, that mindset is a necessity. But at age 38 and returning from back surgery, Woods has also learned his limitations.
"Expectations don't change," Woods said of the winning the Quicken Loans National this week at Congressional. "That's the ultimate goal. It's just that it's going to be a little bit harder this time."
Woods has not played competitively since March, and in returning from microdiscectomy surgery March 31, few look at this week's PGA stop in Bethesda as much more than a tune-up for Woods. More meaningful golf is on the horizon, specifically the British Open next month.
Woods planned on returning for the Open, and said that being able to play his tournament put him "ahead of schedule." In fact, Woods acknowledged that had his Tiger Woods Foundation not been the primary benefactor of the Quicken Loans National, he likely would not be playing this weekend at Congressional.
"If this wasn't the foundation and our impact that we can have with kids, I probably would not. As I said, our goal was the British Open," he said. "I healed extremely fast."
But now that Woods is playing, he must actually get around the golf course and compete with a strong field that includes previous major winners Justin Rose and Webb Simpson as well as young stars like Jordan Spieth and Brandt Snedeker. Woods insisted that he is not rushing back from the surgery, and he has been in step with his medical team throughout his rehab and return. Yet, some injury risk remains.
"Listening to my body, that's one thing that I have learned, stubbornly, over the years, that I have to do this. And particularly with this injury, this is very different than pushing through my knee injuries in the past. I could play through it. I just couldn't play through this."
With Woods making his return to golf, Congressional becomes the center of the golf universe for the week. Though he is mired in the longest major championship drought of his career, Woods remains the biggest star in golf, one of the most recognizable athletes in the world.
All eyes will be watching Woods' round on Thursday, and again Friday. If he makes the cut and contends into the weekend, the event will draw well beyond the hardcore golf fans and attract casual viewers. For Woods to return as a winner, it will require equal parts brilliant play and also knowing when to push his body and when to back off. Tiger seems prepared for the challenge.