Tiger must have had it up to here with all the hoo-ha over the Rorys and the Rickies and all the rest of this so-called new wave of talent who are grabbing all the attention and, according to those willing to crawl out on a flimsy limb, have rendered Woods practically irrelevant.
That’s enough to make Tiger throw away his crutches and walk, no, run all the way from Windermere to Akron just in time to be first off the tee at oh-dawn-thirty for a practice round on Tuesday. Which is precisely his plan because he is entered in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club.
It will be his first tournament since smoothing it around in 42 for nine holes before limping off TPC Sawgrass in the middle of the first round at The Players Championship in May. It wasn’t exactly a ride into the sunset – more like a stagger – but it was clear that his knee and his Achilles tendon were still too painful, even for Woods’ threshold, to make it all the way around the golf course for even one round.
So, he returned to seclusion in Florida and made it perfectly unclear as to when he might return. Even at his press conference at what used to be his tournament – the AT&T National – he was frankly vague about his condition and refused to talk about a timetable.
In fact, the only thing he did say of any consequence is that he’s only 35 and has quite a few good years left. Just not this one.
Now he’s coming to Firestone, a place where he has won seven times. One thing you need to know about Tiger is that he rarely plays anyplace he’s never won. And, it’s a limited-field, no-cut tournament so he’s guaranteed four rounds, if he’s physically able.
That was also the word out of the PGA of America, which announced that Woods would enter the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club next week, that is, if nothing bad happens in Akron.
Which leads us all to believe that there are more questions than answers as far as Tiger is concerned. And we really don’t know all the questions. But here are a few:
Does this mean Tiger is back? No, not even close. We think it just means that he’s tired of waiting, bored with sitting around his mansion watching Kardashian reruns while the major championship clock is ticking. The fact that his preparation – what there was of it – did not tell him that he couldn’t compete at The Players is a disturbing sign. You think he’d know if he were physically capable of playing a round of golf under tournament conditions.
Is he ready to play? No one knows, perhaps not even Woods, and that’s a problem. It has been reported that up until the time of the announcement that he would play at Firestone, he hasn’t been hitting any balls or meeting with teacher Sean Foley. While that’s awfully difficult to believe, it’s still perfectly feasible that he hasn’t prepared in the way that satisfies him. Tiger is meticulous and rigid about his preparation and you have to figure that if he’s in any pain at all, he hasn’t hit enough balls to suit him.
Who’s his caddie? Right now, it’s good friend Bryon Bell, who has caddied for Tiger on special occasions in the past. Bell is president of Tiger Woods Design, which means he has a lot of time on his hands right now since Woods is not building golf courses anywhere. The word is that his American debut, at The Cliffs in the mountains of North Carolina, is stalled and no work is being done. Some think that Bell will caddie at the PGA Championship – if Tiger plays. Other people think that Woods will have a more permanent caddie by the PGA, but finding someone to agree to take the bag with Tiger prepared not to play the rest of the year could be problematic.
Who’s his teacher? For the record, it’s Foley, but when they worked together for a couple of days last week, it was the first time they’ve seen each other in the 11 weeks since The Players. Some have said that Woods should have cleaned house when he let caddie Steve Williams go and should have instructed Foley to not let the door hit him on the way out. Some would think that Tiger should be his own swing coach, that he should just haul out the DVDs of the year 2000, watch and repeat.
What would be a successful week for Tiger? Frankly, if he could play four rounds of golf in tournament conditions, regardless of score or outcome, it would be regarded as a victory. But what about the pain level? We already know how much pain Woods can endure and still win a tournament. But is he willing to do that again?
While it’s big news that Woods is coming back to competitive golf, there’s every chance he can’t do this. Tiger is as stubborn and willful as they come and he might just be sick and tired of being sick and tired. While that will get you off the sofa, willpower alone never won anyone a golf tournament. Except for that one time at Torrey Pines. But that was a different time, another place.