Tiger Woods sounded downright depressed on Tuesday when talking about the prospects for his golf career moving forward after a pair of fall back surgeries.
At his Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, Woods said he has no idea when he’ll be able to return to golf.
“I have no answer to that, and neither do my surgeon or physios,” Woods said. “There is no timetable.”
Woods underwent a microdiscectomy surgery on his back in September in the same place where he had the same procedure done in March 2014. Six weeks later, Woods’ surgeon, Dr. Charles Rich, performed a follow-up procedure to alleviate some issues created by the September work.
When Woods had the initial surgery in September, he announced he was targeting an “early 2016” return. That has changed. It’s not even right to call it an open-ended time frame because the end could very well be Woods walking away — golfers don’t really retire — from professional golf.
The lack of a clear recovery timetable has frustrated Woods, particularly compared with previous injuries in his career, including his oft-operated knees. Ligaments and bones have fairly scripted recovery times, Woods said. Nerves, however, do not.
Peyton Manning would back up Woods’ account.
Woods, who hasn’t hit a golf ball in over two months and is yet to start a formal rehab process, said he is limited physically to simply walking. That sounds like a guy who isn’t going to be bending over a lot anytime soon, much less swinging a golf club at 115mph.
When Woods had his first microdiscectomy surgery in 2014, I told anyone who would listen that back surgeries don’t lead to recoveries. They lead to more back surgeries. Here we are, two more in the book. Doctors can only cut open a guy so many times and operate on a complicated, sensitive part of the body. At a certain point, sooner than later, Woods will have to live with whatever limited functionality he has, and Woods will have to retire from golf. While it’s not totally in Woods’ hands, his decision on how much longer to play will have a direct impact on how he’ll be able to get around for the rest of his life.
Woods likes being a dad to his two children. They play sports, and the 14-time major winner likes to go to their games and be an active part of their athletic development.
“I miss being able to play soccer with them,” he said. He added, “I want to be a part of my kids’ lives physically, not as a cheerleader.”
That seems way more important to him, at nearly 40, than flailing around trying to chase Jack Nicklaus in futile hope of winning another four majors — and that’s just to tie Nicklaus.
Woods might get healthy enough to peel off three more PGA Tour wins and tie Sam Snead’s all-time official mark, but Woods long ago won that comparison. Woods’ competition has been stiffer and his best has been more impressive. Snead, who contended in major golf tournaments into his 60s, wins the longevity battle.
It has been more than seven years since Tiger Woods won a major championship. On the day he won the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in a 19-hole playoff on one leg against Rocco Mediate, Woods solidified himself as one of the two greatest golfers of all time. We knew he would come back. We knew he would win again.
It’s 2015, and Woods has added to his win tally but hasn’t scored another major. There is no certainty he’ll come back, and we have no clue, if he does come back, if he can win. He is still solidly in the conversation as one of the two greatest golfers of all time. Only another player can change that. Nothing Woods does from here on out will, and Woods knows that.
“Pretty much everything beyond this will be gravy,” Woods said, when asked how he would feel if he were to never win another golf tournament.
Woods doesn’t want to be ceremonial, and he’s said as much. After a season of rebuilding his swing in which he had one top-10 finish in his final start of the year, it’s hard for Woods to justify going through that process again and potentially ending up back on the operating table. Woods is going to try to come back. He said he misses the game, and he really wants one last run. If the reaction to him contending in Greensboro is any sampling, the fans want that as well.
Like Kobe Bryant and Manning, Woods has earned the right to go out on his own terms. If he can play well — not just play — again in 2016, then great. There’s 2017, too. If it’s not full time, that’s OK, too. Woods could be this generation’s Fred Couples, playing when his back co-operates and occasionally turning back the clock. He doesn’t have anything left to prove.
“I’ve passed Jack on the all-time win list,” Woods said. “I’m just shy of Sam. I passed Sam basically a decade ago in major championships. I’m still shy of Jack’s. I’ve had a pretty good career in my 20s and 30s. In my 20 years, I’ve accomplished a lot.
“If that’s all that entails, then it’s been a pretty good run.”