* Woods takes a while to find rhythm and 'feel'
* Finishes at three over after three late birdies (Adds detail, quotes)
June 26 (Reuters) - A rusty Tiger Woods sampled the good, the bad and the ugly as he opened with a three-over-par 74 at the Quicken Loans National in Bethesda, Maryland on Thursday in his first competitive round in three months.
Finally back in action after having surgery to repair a pinched nerve in his back in March, the 14-times major winner mixed four birdies with seven bogeys and seven pars to finish eight shots off the early lead.
"The hard part was just getting into the rhythm of playing competitively," Woods, who missed the first two majors this year while out on the sidelines, told reporters.
"You play with your buddies all day for cash and stuff but it's just not the same. It's not the same as tournament golf, different level.
"(Here) adrenaline is rushing and I hit the ball further out here than I do at home. It unfortunately took a while to get the feel for it. That didn't start happening until midway through my front nine."
Woods, whose charity foundation is benefited by the PGA Tour event played at Congressional Country Club, made an erratic start after teeing off at the 10th, recording five bogeys in his first nine holes to reach the turn in four-over 39.
He then dropped further shots at the second and third, where he found a greenside bunker with his approach, before finding his groove on a difficult layout to inch his way a little higher up the leaderboard.
Woods sank birdie putts from inside five feet at the fourth, seventh and eighth to come home in a highly creditable one-under 35.
His overall statistics were something of a mixed bag as he hit nine of 14 fairways and reached 10 of 18 greens in regulation while scrambling a par only once in seven attempts when out of position.
"I made so many little mistakes," said the 38-year-old American, who won this tournament in 2009 and 2012. "But I played a lot better than the score indicated, which is good."
Asked how he felt physically after ending a three-month absence from the PGA Tour, Woods replied: "I had no issues at all. No twinges, no nothing. It felt fantastic.
"I unfortunately have been in my career on the sidelines enough, so it's always fun to come back out here and play against these guys, the best players in the world ... and see what I can do."
Woods has been increasingly plagued by injuries in recent seasons as the wear and tear of years on the tour have begun to take a toll.
He failed to finish the PGA Tour's Honda Classic at Palm Beach Gardens in early March, quitting after 13 holes in his final round, then tweaked his back again on the last day of the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Miami just one week later.
Woods pulled out of the Mar. 20-23 Arnold Palmer Invitational, a key lead-up tournament he has won eight times, in the hope that he could play at the Masters before he opted to undergo surgery on March 31.
He ended up missing the Masters, in April, and the U.S. Open at Pinehurst earlier this month but will compete in the year's third major, the British Open at Hoylake, from July 17-20.
Australian Greg Chalmers was the early leader at Congressional on Thursday, birdies on his last three holes propelling him to a five-under-par 66. (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)