Washington - Tiger Woods, his 39th birthday looming in December, has laughed off 20-something Rory McIlroy's recent estimation that the 14-time major winner and compatriot Phil Mickelson are in the back nine of their careers.
"I thought it was funny," a relaxed Woods said Monday as he promoted the Hero World Challenge unofficial event he will host in Florida in December.
"I mean," he added, "Phil has less holes to play than I do, though."
Woods, hindered all season by injury, acknowledged that, all kidding aside, McIlroy had a point.
"It's a reality, you know? We're all older," he said. "I'm nearing my 20th season on tour here coming up pretty soon. I've been out here for a while, and Phil has been out here for a while.
"Phil has made every single Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup team since, I think, what, '95? Pretty remarkable.
"As long as you're still part of that conversation, you cross generations in this game of golf," he said.
Woods said he's as curious as the rest of the world to see how he'll play when he tees it up at Isleworth Golf and Country Club for the tournament he hosts for the benefit of his charitable foundation December 4-7.
He hasn't played since missing the cut at the PGA Championship in August with back spasms, saying doctors told him he needed time to strengthen his back, although he insisted at the time the trouble wasn't related to the surgery he had in March to relieve a pinched nerve.
He was sidelined for nearly four months thanks to that trouble, missing the Masters and US Open as he recovered.
"Golf-wise, nothing," he said of his current training program.
"I haven't swung a golf club yet. I've just been shadow swinging without a club. But I've been busting my butt in the gym pretty hard.
"I've got my strength back, which is nice. Now the next goal is to get my explosiveness and my fast twitch going. That's the next phase of my training."
Woods said he hoped to be swinging a club in late September or early October.
"We have our goals and benchmarks," he said. "But it's also day-to-day. Some days I'm making better gains than others."
His schedule for the 2014-15 season will depend largely on how he plays in the World Challenge, he said.
"That's something I'm curious about, just like I'm sure most of the media guys are here, how I'm going to be feeling how I'm going to be playing," Woods said. "If I don't have any setbacks or pain, then I foresee a very full schedule next year."
While Woods had already ruled himself out of possible Ryder Cup selection, he admitted he would miss playing for the United States in the match-play showdown with Europe next week.
"You have bonds just because of that one week that you're bonded for life," he said of the lasting ties formed with teammates. "We beat each other's brains in 51 weeks of the year, and then we all of a sudden come together and make friendships for a lifetime. It's pretty cool."