TIGER Woods is making final preparations to return to competitive golf after a three-month injury layoff, a test at Congressional Country Club that could herald a British Open appearance.
Sinking to fifth in the new world rankings, Woods hosted a private pro-am event on Monday ahead of the US PGA National from Thursday in suburban Washington.
"I will be a bit rusty but I want to play myself back into competitive shape - excited for the challenge ahead," Woods said.
"You just have to take it day by day," said Sean Foley, Woods' swing coach. "There's really not a whole lot to it. It's just seeing how he feels day to day, warming up and playing the course."
If Woods goes well at the National, he is expected to contest the British Open from July 17 at Royal Liverpool, where he won in 2006.
Woods, 38, would then be only three weeks from the US PGA Championship at Valhalla.
The 14-time major champion missed the Masters and US Open after undergoing back surgery to ease pressure on a pinched nerve.
Woods, overtaken for world No.1 by Adam Scott last month and passed by Matt Kuchar for fourth in the latest rankings, has not played since March 9 at Doral.
"I'm just hoping that he doesn't push it too early, too soon and re-injure himself," said Australian Jason Day, who admitted playing this year's Masters before his left thumb injury was fully healed hindered his recovery.
"As long as he's 100 per cent healthy, it's good for him to come back. It's good to get those competitive juices flowing again. There's nothing quite like tournament golf. He definitely needs to play a tournament before Royal Liverpool.
"The golfing world needs Tiger Woods. It's great to have him back."
Other rivals agree golf needs Woods to bring back some absent spark.
"Normally I don't watch golf but I'll watch when Tiger is playing," reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson said.
"No matter if he misses the cut, no matter if he just finishes middle of the pack, it's a great thing for golf that he's back."
US television ratings have sagged in the absence of Woods, even for major events.
"Every time he's in the field, the event is different," said 2011 PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley.
"That might not be the right thing to say, but it's really exciting when he's out there. We need Tiger. The whole tour needs Tiger and golf needs Tiger."
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