BETHESDA, Md. — Tiger Woods can’t say whether his left elbow will be fully healed in time for the British Open, only that it will be “good enough.”
Woods returned to the AT&T National on Wednesday as the defending champion only in name.
Doctors have recommended that he sit out this week at Congressional, along with next week at The Greenbrier, because of a left elbow strain that has been bothering him for more a month and was made worse by hacking out of the dense U.S. Open rough at Merion.
“I pushed it pretty good at the Open to play it and to play through it,” Woods said. “Made it worse by hitting the ball out of the rough, and eventually got a point where I wasn’t able to play here. We’re treating it, and eventually I’ll start the strengthening process, then starting hitting balls to get up to speed for the British.”
The British Open is July 18-21 at Muirfield, and Woods could not say that he would be at 100 percent by then.
“How about … good enough,” he said.
There was no visible evidence of an elbow injury until he began dangling his left arm and flexing his wrist after hitting out of the rough at Merion in the opening round. He eventually said he first hurt it during The Players Championship, which he won on May 12, but he did not mention a specific shot or even a round.
On Wednesday, he said it wasn’t a single shot.
“It was just playing there, and it didn’t feel good then early in the week, but I pushed through it,” Woods said. “It progressively just got worse. Got to a point where I was starting to struggle a little bit.”
Woods still played the Memorial in the month between The Players Championship and the U.S. Open, which he conceded might have been a mistake. Woods was the defending champion and a five-time winner at Muirfield Village, so it was shocking when he turned in a 44 on the back nine — the highest 9-hole score of his PGA Tour career — and wound up 20 shots out of the lead. That was his largest deficit in a full-field tournament.
Asked if he should have sat out the Memorial, Woods said, “It would have been better, yes.”
“I wouldn’t necessarily say regret,” Woods said. “I wish I would have played better so I didn’t have so many shots I had to hit.”
Woods had won three out of four tournaments going into the Memorial — the exception was a tie for fourth in the Masters. In the two tournaments after The Players Championship, he finished a combined 32 shots out of the lead with a scoring average of 73.6. That includes his score of 293 at Merion, his worst ever in the U.S. Open.
He is treating the injury with electrical stimulation, ice, soft tissue treatment and anti-inflammatories to help with the swelling.
“Eventually, as I said, I’ll start the strengthening process here,” he said. “Hopefully, that will be sooner than later, and then start hitting balls.”
Woods already has won four times this year, twice as many as anyone else, and he has established a comfortable margin again at No. 1 in the world. He still remains stuck on 14 majors dating to the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, which he won despite shredded knee ligaments and a double stress fracture in his lower left leg.
Now 37, Woods has to cope with injuries at an alarming rate.
He had reconstructive surgery on his left knee after his U.S. Open win. He withdrew from The Players Championship in consecutive years, with a sore neck in 2010 and after only nine holes in 2011 with Achilles tendon and other injuries in his left leg that forced him to miss two majors.
Woods said he has been dealing with injuries much longer.
“I played with a lot in my early 20s and no one ever knew about it,” he said. “I just didn’t play in certain tournaments. I took a few weeks off here and there, and that was the end of it. But I played a few events where I really shouldn’t have played, and it caused some damage. There’s a difference between being hurt and being injured. It’s a delicate balance. I know what it’s like to play both, unfortunately.
“You can play hurt,” he said. “But playing injured, it can sideline you for a while.”
Woods attended the opening ceremonies at the AT&T National, which benefits his foundation, and then he did a couple of interviews. The biggest pain Wednesday was not being able to play Congressional, which has hosted four major championships and presents as strong as test as the PGA Tour offers all year.
“Looks like the golf course is in fantastic shape,” he said. “It’s green. It’s lush. It’s thick. Temperature is up. It’s going to present a hell of a test for the guys. I’ll be watching.”
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