Rusty Tiger takes his game public

BETHESDA, Md. -- On Wednesday morning during the pro-am for the Quicken Loans National, which starts Thursday at Congressional Country Club, Tiger Woods confirmed his back is healthy and his game is rusty after a nearly three-month layoff following back surgery.

It's important not to place too much significance on how tour players perform in a practice round, particularly a pro-am, where they are mingling with amateurs and getting a feel for different shots. Tiger's round Wednesday offered a first look at the 14-time major champion on a golf course since he struggled to put his tee in the ground during a pain-riddled final-round 78 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in early March.

Wednesday got off to a rough start for Woods at the 218-yard, par-3 10th hole, where his tee shot found the water that fronts the green.

Not surprisingly, Tiger struggled with his driver, a club that has plagued him, perhaps, more than any other the past few years. He hit just two of his first seven fairways, missing mostly to the right.

"My grip got a little bit weak," said Woods, who spent last week with instructor Sean Foley trying to strengthen his grip. "That's one of the reasons I was losing the ball to the right."

At other times, Tiger's approach shots and short game looked sharp.

"I hit some loose shots, and I also hit some very good ones today," he said. "My back feels great, which is a really good sign."

Tiger will face a demanding challenge on Congressional's Blue Course when he starts his opening round Thursday at 8:12 a.m. ET with Jason Day and Jordan Spieth.

Both players and caddies have called the Blue Course one of the most difficult on the PGA Tour. In 2013, the Rees Jones redesign ranked as the eighth-toughest course on tour.

"I am a little bit rusty, but I have to really manage my game around this golf course," Tiger said. "It's really tough. The guys aren't going to go very low here.

"I 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."

Foley walked several holes with his star pupil.

"I'm just glad to see him back," he said, refusing to offer any assessment of Tiger's game, citing his long layoff.

On Tuesday, Tiger admitted that during his rehab from back surgery it has been a process to regain his legendary explosiveness. He joked about hitting 135-yard 8-irons. After the pro-am, his caddie Joe LaCava sounded optimistic about his boss' future and command of his yardages and distance control.

"It's going to take a little time," LaCava said, "but he's fine."

Coming into this week, Tiger is 209th in the FedEx Cup standings. He has failed to qualify for the playoffs only once, in 2011, when he finished 132nd in the rankings. He needs to be at least 125th after the Wyndham Championship in mid-August to advance to the first leg of the playoffs at the Barclays later that month.