- Associated Press - Thursday, June 26, 2014

BETHESDA, Md. (AP) - Bill Haas is the defending champion and an afterthought at the Quicken Loans National. He would have expected nothing less.

Tiger Woods is back at Congressional.

And this time, the tournament host will be doing more than just handing out the trophy.

Woods returns to competition Thursday for the first time in three months because of back pain that showed up occasionally, then more frequently, and ultimately led him have surgery just a week before the Masters.

It’s the second-longest hiatus of his career next to the eight months he missed from knee surgery in 2008 after he won the U.S. Open.

“I’m not the one that moves the needle here on this tour,” Haas said with a smile. “So I think we’re all loving having him back here playing. We want him to play healthy and we want him to contend in majors, because he’s the lifeline of our tour and the reason everyone gets excited to watch.”

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem attended the opening ceremony and was asked on his way to the parking lot why it was important to have Woods back.

“Do I need to answer that question?” Finchem replied.

There were more fans for a Wednesday, more cameras, more interest, more speculation.

“He’s the most impactful player that’s in the sport and has been for a long time,” Finchem said. “It gets people refocused on his career and his drive. Short-term benefits are that it sells more tickets, but that’s not really important. It’s just having him in the sport. He’s always been a positive influence and he’ll always be as long as he’s playing.”

Here’s what to look for in the return of the 14-time major champion:

THE RUST: When he announced last week he was ready to start competing, Woods acknowledged there would be rust. He hasn’t competed in 109 days, dating to March 9 at Doral when he had the highest score (78) for a final round in his PGA Tour career.

That might be a product of age and injuries - the back surgery on March 31, along with four knee surgeries.

Woods used to come out firing when he took long breaks not related to injuries. At the end of 2007, he went 10 weeks without competition and returned at the Target World Challenge, setting a tournament with a seven-shot victory.

After his ‘08 knee surgery, Woods lost in the second round of the Match Play Championship, and then didn’t finish out of the top 10 in his eight stroke-play tournaments (he won three times) over the next five months.

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