uring his appearance at the 2021 Hero World Challenge on Tuesday, Tiger Woods talked publicly for the first time in nearly a year. Woods has not provided much information since a tragic automobile accident in late February put him in a hospital bed for several weeks and then at home in a wheelchair for a long time, with the exception of small updates assuring golf fans that he was progressing.
We saw him swing a golf club for the first time since last December, when he and his son, Charlie, competed in the PNC Championship. The video lasted only 3 seconds. A lengthy interview with Golf Digest was released on Monday, and it included some fascinating gems like Woods admitting that he would never play a full schedule again and that he doesn’t think he’ll “have the body to climb Mount Everest, and that’s OK.”
Still, there were enough else to discuss and countless questions to ask the 15-time major winner. He chatted for 45 minutes on Tuesday about his accident, his life, and what a future comeback would look like for him in the coming years. Here’s a rundown of anything he mentioned that was noteworthy.
In comparison to prior recoveries: “This one has been a lot more tough [than the ten on my knee and back combined]. The operations on my left knee were one thing, and that’s one level. Then there’s the back, which is a different level. Then, with this right leg, it’s tough to describe how painful it’s been to remain immobilized for three months, just lay there, and look forward to getting outside. That was one of my objectives.”
Woods has expressed this numerous times now, and it remains immensely frightening to read about one of the finest sportsmen of all time longingly looking out the window yearning to be amid myriad south Florida avian species and Bermuda turf.
When it comes to his return to the PGA Tour, he says: “When it comes to playing on the Tour, I’m not sure when that will happen. Now, I’ll play a round or two here and there, a little hit and grin, something along those lines. … It’s a little eye-opening to see some of my shots fall out of the sky a lot shorter than they used to, but at least I’m able to do it again. That was something I didn’t seem like I’d be able to do for a while.”
Tiger also stated that he enjoys playing forward tees, chipping, and putting, but that he is doubtful if his right leg would ever cooperate to the point where he will be able to compete on the PGA Tour or in major championships.
“Yeah, all those things have been answered in the investigation, so you can read about all that there in the post report,” he says of his memories of the disaster.
When he was resting in a hospital bed, Woods wouldn’t say much about his accident except that he “refused to turn on the local networks and news” and that he “wasn’t mentally ready for that road.” For several reasons, I wish he had addressed the accident. First and foremost, there has been a pattern of driving incidents that must be addressed. Furthermore, whenever Woods discusses personal issues, it humanizes him and encourages others to do the same.
On his long-term prospects: “Well, I’ve climbed up there a few times, and I’ve had a pretty successful career thus far. I just assumed I’d still have my hands when I got out of the spinal fusion operation. So I returned in 2017 and competed in the Hero event… Then, in 2018, I went back and started playing a little bit more and constructing. After Tampa, I realized I could win once I started constructing. After that, I demonstrated to myself that I could win the British Open. I suppose I could end here. Despite the fact that I did not win, I had a strong finish at the PGA at Bellerive, and then I won the Masters in 2019. That is not a pattern I see continuing in the future. Because of my leg’s state and build-up, I won’t be able to practice. I simply don’t believe it. I’ll just do it in a different way, which is fine and I’m fine with it because I’ve done the climb enough times.”
Even if everyone refuses to believe it, Tiger continues to wave the white flag.
Accepting the new reality: “Given that I was able to return after the fusion surgery and perform what I did, it’s really simple. I finished the last major and added two more events to my resume. I don’t see this leg ever being what it was, so the back will never be what it was, and the clock is ticking. I’m getting on in years. I don’t seem to be growing any younger. All of this combined means that a full schedule, full practice schedule, and the recovery time required to do so are things I don’t want to undertake. But, as I mentioned yesterday, Mr. [Ben] Hogan did a fairly excellent job of ramping up for a few tournaments a year, and there’s no reason why I can’t do the same and feel ready.”
Another white flag, but this time it’s optimistic because Woods appears to have reconciled his past with his future. That’s a difficult task, and he’ll most likely have to repeat it for the next 10-15 years. “I got that last major,” for example, will get a lot of attention, but don’t let it prevent you from saying, “I don’t have any desire to accomplish it.” Tiger has never spoken anything like that before.
He’s an almost 46-year-old trapped in a nearly 63-year-old body, and his soul is tired. Whose wouldn’t it be if it wasn’t yours? This, more than anything else he said on Tuesday, paints the clearest picture of his future. He has absorbed the fact that he has won his last big title, and he has no desire to go through the physical, mental, and emotional pain that it would take in the future to even reach to the point where he has a 2% chance of winning another.
In regards to the 2019 Masters: “When [my kids] found I could play the game, they were taken aback. That’s why the Masters was such a special occasion for our entire family. Because… [the injured phase of my career is] what they’ve seen, that’s what they’ve grown up with, for my mother, Sam and Charlie, and all of my pals. They have no recollection of the other instances because they were either not alive at the time or were too young to recall.”
Tiger Woods’ 2019 Masters victory, like Phil Mickelson’s 2021 PGA Championship victory, will only grow more implausible and unbelievable as time passes.
Next year will be the 150th Open Championship, and I’m looking forward to it: “There’s no doubt in my mind that I’d like to play at St. Andrews. It’s my all-time favorite golf course. Being a two-time Open winner there and being a part of the champions supper is incredible. It’s an honor to be a part of a room like that. Those dinners are priceless, and listening to them talk about how they played, when they played it, and what they did, it’s simply an honor to be a part of a room like that. Physically, I believe I am capable. First and foremost, I must arrive.”
It would be the ideal location for him to return.
On the subject of breakaway leagues: “I’ve made the decision to support the PGA Tour on my own. That’s where I’ll leave my mark. I’ve had the good fortune to win 82 events on this tour, 15 major championships, and to be a part of the World Golf Championships from the beginning to the conclusion. As a result, I’m a fan of the PGA Tour.”
Tiger may not have the same clout as he once did since, well, he’s not playing golf anymore, but this is a great (if minor) victory for the PGA Tour in the ongoing battle for the future of men’s professional golf.
Regarding the possibility of losing his leg: “[Monday] I said it: I’m blessed to be alive and still have a limb. Those are the two most important factors. I’m thankful that someone was looking after me upstairs, and that I’m able to not only be here but also walk without a prosthesis.”
It seemed surreal at the time to talk to and even interview a number of medical professionals about the possibility that Woods’ leg would be amputated, but it turns out that this was not overdone at all. He recently referred to it as a 50-50 chance, which is pretty much what everyone felt at the time. Tiger’s tragedy was so catastrophic that the sight of him going around with a prosthetic is both disheartening and a reminder of how serious his accident was.
In terms of getting his leg ready for competition, he says: “Will I put my family through this again? Will I put myself out there once more? Within the family, we had a discussion. ‘If this leg cooperates and I come to a place where I can play the Tour, is it OK with you guys if I try to do it?’ we all asked. Yes, everyone agreed. Internally, I haven’t yet arrived at that place. I haven’t shown to myself that I am capable of doing it…. However, we’re talking about competing against the best in the world on the most tough golf courses under the most severe conditions. I’m a long way away from that. I still have a long way to go to get there. I’m still undecided about whether I want to reach to that point. I need to get my leg to a position where I can make that decision. And we’ll see what happens when I get there, but this leg still has a long way to go.”
There is a recurring motif here. Tiger appears to be unsure if his right leg will allow him to compete at a major championship level again. Even if there’s a chance it could happen, it doesn’t sound like he’d be willing to go through the degree of terrible, private misery and work required to make it happen. To simply get to the point where he could theoretically choose to “put myself out there again,” which he may or may not do even if he is well enough to do so.
This mirrors Woods’ earlier statement about not wanting to put himself through the stress of playing a full schedule. This is a departure from the rest of his life, to say the least. His attitude has always been that if his body is willing, the rest will take care of itself. Now? Even if Tiger Woods’ knee, back, and leg are all in sync for the same amount of time, the fight that has always defined him (and in fact made him who he is) appears to have waned and possibly vanished along the road.