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Tiger Woods ready to play golf

BETHESDA, Md. -- Tiger Woods said Tuesday ahead of his annual golf tournament at Congressional Country Club that he is pain-free for the first time in about two years and that he intends to play the Open Championship next month.

In late March, the 14-time major champion underwent microdiscectomy surgery for a pinched nerve in his back. His return to competitive golf at the Quicken Loans National, which starts Thursday, was hastened by his partnership with the tournament through his Tiger Woods Foundation.

"If this wasn't the foundation and our impact that we can have with kids, I probably would not have played," Woods said. "Our goal was the British Open."

Woods, who was unable to play in the Masters and the U.S. Open, said he doesn't feel like he's rushing his return after a surgery that many believed might cost him the remainder of the season, including the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool and the PGA Championship.

"I healed extremely fast, thanks to my physios, and all my nutrition and all the different things that we did and the protocols and the MRIs, and all the different steps that we have done along the way have allowed me to get to this point," he said.

Woods said the risk of re-injuring his back is minimal.

"Obviously, I'm going to get stronger as time goes on," he said. "Just like it is with every round we play, we can hit behind a tree root and damage something, awkward lies, the little knickknack things that have happened to us that have played at this level. I'm no different in that regard."

During his rehabilitation for this week, Woods worked with instructor Sean Foley to make tweaks to his swing, but those slight changes would not be plainly observable to the naked eye, he said.

"We look at it on video, and what I'm feeling I'm doing, it looks the same as it did before," Woods said. "I probably may not go at it as hard on all shots."

In 2011, Woods missed the U.S. Open and the Open Championship after injuring his left knee and Achilles tendon in the third round of the Masters.

What made his back injury frustrating for him was that it didn't allow him to play through the pain or perform normal activities.

"Anyone that's had any kind of nerve impingement, it's no 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."

The back injury, Woods said, has taught him a valuable lesson about listening to his body.

"In the past, I probably would have pushed through it and set myself back and then kept pushing harder and harder until stuff breaks," he said.

Still, he said that his explosiveness has not yet returned to pre-back-injury levels.

"That's going to come in time," he said. "We haven't done any explosive lifts that I'm used to doing, so that will happen over time."

Woods last played in a PGA Tour event in the WGC-Cadillac Championship in early March. While he always says that he expects to win whenever he plays, he suggested Tuesday that the Quicken Loans tournament is an occasion to shake some rust off his game.

"Expectations don't change," Woods said. "[Winning] is 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 preps and reps that I would like, but I'm good enough to play and I am going to give it a go."

Woods will play with Jason Day and Jordan Spieth starting Thursday at 8:12 a.m. ET off Congressional Country Club's 10th tee on the Blue Course. The same threesome will tee off Friday off No. 1 at 1:12 p.m. ET.

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