(Reuters) - Tiger Woods on Sunday gave the strongest indication yet that he might not return to competition this year, saying that he needed to be patient during his recovery from back surgeries.
The former world number one has not played on the PGA Tour since undergoing microdiscectomy back surgery last September and, at the age of 40, has decided not to rush his comeback.
"I am playing, just I need more time," tournament host Woods told CBS Sports during Sunday's final round of the Quicken Loans National in Bethesda, Maryland. "I still need to get stronger, I need to recover faster and that's going to take time.
"I'm not a real patient person when it comes to that ... pushing through some of my injuries, pushing through some of my rehab, I've come back and won, and won major championships doing it that way, but this one's different.
"This one, I'm older, it takes a little longer to recover and to heal and I'm going to do it right so I don't have another surgery."
Woods, who has slipped in recent years due to injuries and mastering of a new swing, thought he was back to form after tying for 10th at the Wyndham Championship in August, following a dismal season in which he missed three cuts in the majors.
But three weeks later he had a second microdiscectomy surgery to alleviate pressure on a disc in his lower back, before needing another procedure on Oct. 28 on the same area due to discomfort.
Woods, who made just 11 starts on the PGA Tour last season and only seven the season before, had his first back surgery in early 2014.
Asked if he would be able to return to competition at some point this year, he replied: "I don't know. I want to play, I don't know if I will but I do want to.
"I am trying. Each and every day, I'm doing my workouts, sometimes three times a day. I'm working my tail off. I've gotten stronger, I'm a little bit faster than I used to be. All that's a positive but I still need now to get into golf shape.
"The mental side is the easiest part. It's trying to get my body to do what I want it to do when I want it to do it. That's the hard part about. I've had three back operations on the same area so it's not fun."
Woods, whose world ranking has plummeted to a mind-boggling 582nd, has found it frustrating to be a television spectator while his peers are winning golf tournaments.
"I know I can still do it," said the 14-times major champion. "It's just that I can't do it right now. I am giving myself the best opportunity to do that going forward."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Andrew Both)