For a guy on the sidelines, Tiger Woods has been talked about a lot over the past several weeks – from an ESPN piece centered around his dad’s death and speculation on where he was mentally the past several years, to Golf Channel reports on when he'll return to competition.
Amid the bursts of hype produced with each short glimpse into Woods' progress, it's easy to forget he's returning from three back surgeries in a little under two years. The problems, however, date well before Woods first went under the knife for March 2014 microdiscectomy.
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In August 2013, we saw Woods' back first flare up at The Barclays. Woods mentioned at that time he slept on a soft mattress and, as a result, was struggling with back spasms. He still finished tied for second on the infamous Sunday which saw him drop to his knees in pain at Liberty National. He came up two rotations shy of three straight birdies to tie winner Adam Scott and force a playoff.
That wasn't even the first time we'd heard of Woods suffering back trouble. In 1998, he withdrew from the Kemper Open, citing a back injury. This was the first ever public mention of Woods injuring his back.
Then there's the laundry list of other issues all over his body. In 1994, Woods was finishing his first few months at Stanford and had surgery to remove scar tissue and two tumors in his left knee. A year later, in his first U.S. Open, he withdrew with a sprained wrist.
In 2002, additional injuries to his left knee required him to have fluid drained around his left ACL and have several cysts removed. Then, in July 2007 he again ruptured his ACL while running, only to later undergo surgery after the 2008 Masters. The ligament wasn't fully repaired, devolving to the point that he played the '08 U.S. Open on virtually one leg, with stress fractures in his left leg. He won it in 91 holes, on the 19th hole of a playoff against Rocco Mediate. At some point in 2008, Woods injured his right Achilles, then reinjured it again in 2009 – an injury he didn't disclose until the 2010 Masters.
A month after that Masters, Woods withdrew in the final round of The Players after experiencing a tingling sensation down his right side – diagnosed as an inflamed facet joint in his neck. That December, Woods had a Corisone shots for a flare up of his right Achilles. In the 2011 Masters, Woods suffered a minor sprain to his left Achilles at the Masters, forcing him to miss the Wells Fargo Championship. That sprain posed additional issues, forcing him to withdraw from The Players after a nine-hole 42. Woods cited the left Achilles in pulling out of the final round at Doral in March 2012.
And that brings us back to The Barclays. That's a lot of injuries.
While we know Woods' medical history maybe better than our own, and I've had several one-on-one conversations with him, there is no way for us to climb inside his mind and dissect what impact those mounting problems have had on his career. We know Woods worked with Sean Foley on a swing that could protect his back and that, ultimately, that effort wasn't successful. It's why Woods went searching for his swing from 20 years prior and began working with Chris Como.
Yet here we are. As soon as four months ago, Woods struggled to, as he told Time Magazine, walk “10 minutes on the beach.” Now, he is hitting full golf shots and reportedly engaging in long practice sessions at Medalist. We should celebrate the fact that arguably the greatest golfer of all time is able to even hit golf balls, much less the fact that it looks like he might return sooner rather than later. I have heard so much prognosticating about what Tiger will do next or when he will play again, but what we should really celebrate is the fact that he is going to play again. He has overcome more than most will ever know nor even begin to understand.
To imply he somehow lost his way – either personally, with the loss of his father or the failure of his marriage, or professionally, changing coaches at times baffling to outsiders – undermines the injuries.
It is imperative to retool things in our lives. Woods has done it time and again – sometimes at his own volition, others because of his own undoing, other times still because of things completely out of his control. Through it all, Woods soldiers on.
Without a known timeline for his competitive return, Woods' next public appearance is the unveiling of Bluejack National, his first U.S. course design, on Monday. In accordance with usual events, there will likely be a press conference. No doubt he will be peppered with questions about his return. He'll then travel to Las Vegas this coming weekend for Tiger Jam, which benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation.
Whenever Tiger hits his next competitive tee shot I will be watching like the rest of you. After all this time, Woods is still the needle for golf. I, too, will be waiting to see what he does next. Whatever that might be, we should sit back and admire Woods' greatness for what it truly has been.
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