NASSAU, Bahamas – Relentless Father Time is a foe.
As is his damaged right leg and foot.
And the troublesome back remains a constant battle.
But as a painful year nears its close, a surprisingly upbeat Tiger Woods is facing down his future in a different manner.
He’s been down this road before following scandal and surgeries, one of the most harrowing being his return from spinal fusion surgery a few years back. This time, however, following his horrific one-car, rollover accident last February that nearly cost him his right leg, let alone his life, the 15-time major champion is OK with the prospect of never playing again at the game’s highest level.
But he’ll give it a go.
Tiger Woods interview highlights: Backing the PGA Tour over rival leagues, a timeline for his return and more
“I don’t foresee this leg ever being what it used to be, I’ll never have the back what it used to be, and the clock’s ticking,” Woods said Tuesday at Albany ahead of Thursday’s start of the Hero World Challenge that he hosts and has attracted 20 of golf’s best players.
“I’m getting older, I’m not getting any younger,” he continued. “All that combined means that a full schedule and a full practice schedule and the recovery that it would take to do that, no, I don’t have any desire to do that.”
Still, there is an avenue Woods said he could choose to go down to try to return to the PGA Tour. He said he could pick and choose a few tournaments, like Ben Hogan did at the end of his career after he survived a brutal head-on car crash.
“He did a pretty good job of it, and there’s no reason that I can’t do that and feel ready,” Woods said. “I may not be tournament sharp in the sense I haven’t played tournaments, but I think if you practice correctly and you do it correctly, that I’ve come off surgeries before, I’ve come off long layoffs and I’ve won or come close to winning before. So I know the recipe for it. I’ve just got to get to a point where I feel comfortable enough where I can do that again.”
He’s been moving in the right direction for some time now, setting little milestones to conquer. First leaving a hospital bed after three months and getting outside to feel the warmth of the sun, then leaving behind the wheelchair he needed to get around, then tossing aside the crutches.
Earlier this month, he posted a three-second video of himself hitting a wedge. He has now progressed to playing a few holes.
Making progress pic.twitter.com/sVQkxEHJmq
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) November 21, 2021
On Tuesday, Woods walked into the media center at Albany without aid, slowly but without a limp. He smiled throughout his 40-minute presser. His upper body has certainly expanded, especially his Popeye arms.
While he remains in pain, he is at peace with his current state and the rehab road he eyes, especially knowing that he is lucky to be alive and fortunate to still have his right leg and foot, for amputation was on the table.
And his way of life is back, and his two children are at the ready to fill his heart.
“I’m very grateful that someone upstairs was taking care of me, that I’m able to not only be here but also to walk without a prosthesis,” he said. “Some dark moments, but then again, as I was making progress through it, I could see some light and that was giving me hope. I’m able to participate more with my kids and their activities and more just life in general. I’m on the positive side. I’m on the better side of it.
“But I’ve still got a long way to go.”
As far as a target date for a possible return – say the PNC Championship in mid-December – Woods isn’t eyeing the calendar.
“I’ll put it to you this way: as far as playing at the Tour level, I don’t know when that’s going to happen,” he said. “Now, I’ll play a round here or there, a little hit and giggle, I can do something like that. The USGA suggested Play It Forward. I really like that idea now.
“To see some of my shots fall out of the sky a lot shorter than they used to is a little eye‑opening, but at least I’m able to do it again. That’s something that for a while there it didn’t look like I was going to. Now I’m able to participate in the sport of golf. Now to what level, I do not know that.”
Tiger Woods: Timeline of events a year after we last saw him (officially) at the November Masters
In 2015 at the Hero World Challenge, a somber Woods felt his career could be over, saying, “Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? I don’t know. I think pretty much everything beyond this will be gravy.”
Well, that gravy included victory in the 2018 Tour Championship, his fifth green jacket coming in the 2019 Masters, and his record-tying 82nd PGA Tour title later that year in the Zozo Championship. Those moments provide him inspiration, just as teeing it up with Charlie or playing soccer with daughter, Sam. He is thinking about carrots at the end of a long tunnel and he’s ready to go after them.
“I have a long way in the rehab process of this leg and it’s not the fun stuff of the rehab,” he said. “It’s just reps and breaking up scar tissue and things that really hurt. So that part of it’s not going to be fun, but the challenge of it is.
“I enjoy the challenge of getting in there and trying to push it to the next level, sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back, but you’ve got to go through it. I enjoy that part of it and maybe one day it will be good enough where I can get out here and I can compete against these best players in the world again.”