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When’s Tiger Coming Back? Only He Knows

NEWTOWN SQUARE, PENNSYLVANIA | Anyone who watched Tiger Woods’ 30-minute news conference here on Tuesday, or even read the transcript, surely came away with the impression that the former No. 1 player in the world has no intention of abdicating his status as the greatest golfer of generations past, present and yes, even future.

This was a resolute Woods, almost defiant in the face of conventional wisdom that his time has come and possibly gone, and long live King Rory of Northern Ireland, a former fresh prince now ascending to the throne after his regal victory in the U.S. Open at Congressional two weeks ago.

But not so fast, Woods warned the other day.

“I am going to come back,” he said. “I’m 35, not 65. I’ve still got some years ahead of me. My motivation right now is to get back to where I can play the way I know I can play and feeling good again because I haven’t felt good in a number of years. I’m looking forward to that.”

For the first time in a long time, Woods is actually using his head these days, as opposed to his heart and/or any other body parts.

He is finally listening to his doctor’s orders, unlike his decision to play in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines – his last major victory – despite having stress fractures and a torn up knee. You have to also suspect that he went against their advice last month when he decided to enter The Players Championship, then limped out to the parking lot after posting 42 for nine holes.

This time, he said he’s going to listen to their advice and will be “smarter” in the way he comes back from his injuries.

“I don’t know when that will be,” he insisted. “That’s the frustrating thing about it right now is I don’t know. I am getting stronger, starting to get more explosive again. I’m going to eventually start practicing and playing again, but not until I’m 100 percent ready.”

One aspect of all this is not so different, of course. That would be Woods’ penchant for secrecy, for bending the truth so that only he and a few members of his inner circle actually know what’s going on.

Woods wouldn’t rule out playing in the British Open in two weeks, though that seems as remote a possibility as Woods ever being totally forthcoming with information that seems so silly to conceal.

When a professional football player gets hurt, the team trainers and doctors will almost always tell you the specific injury, prognosis and timetable to get him back on the field. And that’s in a contact sport where it’s in the best interest of a player not to have his opponent know that he’s playing on a sore knee or a wounded shoulder.

Last time we checked, no one has ever gang-tackled Woods on a golf course. So what would have been the harm of him coming to his own signature tournament last week and laying out the most likely timetable his doctors have in mind? Surely, they have an estimate when he’ll be able to start hitting wedges, when he’ll be able to take full swings, when he’ll be able to grip it and rip the driver the way he’s always done and return to competitive golf.

Many of us who write about the game for a living had to laugh out loud at the 2010 Masters when Woods talked about “all my friends in the media” at his first news conference almost six months after his car accident and subsequent revelations of serial infidelities.

Friendship is the last thing most of us are looking for with Woods or anyone else we cover. What we’d like, instead, is occasional one-on-one availability – you know, the way Nicklaus and Palmer always managed to make the time – and the ability to tell our readers when they might expect to see him back on the golf course.

Would it have been so difficult for Woods to come here, announce that he will not be playing in the British Open and that his doctors have told him he’ll probably need another X amount of weeks before he can seriously think about returning to tournament golf?

By the way, the best guess, based on nothing really, is that Woods seems most likely to be pointing at the Bridgestone event at Firestone the week before the PGA Championship in mid-August. And when he does come back, Woods also has no doubt that he can return to the good old days of dominating play and more major championships.

“I feel like my best years are ahead of me,” he said at one point last week. “I feel pretty confident what my future holds and very excited about it. I’m excited about coming out here and being ready to go instead of trying to kind of patch it, which I’ve been doing for awhile.”

When that will be, only Woods and his doctors can say. As usual, they’re not telling right now. So what else is new?


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