With one image, Tiger Woods explained the difference in where he’s been and where he is now as he readies for his return to competitive golf Thursday in the Bahamas at the Hero World Challenge.
“The neatest thing is to get out of bed and grab a club and not use it as a crutch. Now I can make a swing. You have no idea how exciting that is,” Woods said during a 30-minute press conference Tuesday at Albany.
This is not unfamiliar territory for Woods, 41. He has spent the better part of the past decade dealing with injuries, surgeries and the related physical challenges that have threatened to put a premature end to his remarkable career.
One year ago, Woods co-led the field in birdies at the Hero World Challenge, stoking the anticipation that he finally was ready to return to the PGA Tour in full form. It didn’t happen.
A year later, Woods has undergone spinal fusion surgery and been through an arrest for driving under the influence that led to treatment for a painkiller addiction.
This comeback seems different, both on a personal and a professional level.
“I’ve come out the other side. I feel fantastic,” Woods said when asked about his issues with painkillers that led him to seek professional help.
“A lot of friends have helped me. I didn’t realize how bad my back was. Now I’m feeling the way I’m feeling and it’s hard to imagine I was living the way I was living. My foot not working, my leg not working, the hours of not being able to sleep at all because of the pain.
“I was trying to go away from the pain. I was trying to sleep, which I hadn’t done in a very long time. As my back improved, I’ve been able to start sleeping again because I don’t have the nerve pain going down my leg. I’m loving life now.”
The question is where Woods is as a golfer.
He’s interested in finding out as well.
He was cleared to hit shots again approximately one month ago and admits there are still big swings he’s been reluctant to take. He says he has no more back pain, just some residual stiffness. He doesn’t yet know fully what his body will allow him to do on the golf course.
“I’m winging this,” Woods said. “Let me play this event and see what I can and can’t do.”
Woods likened his back surgery to having hip replacement. One day there’s excruciating pain. The next day it’s gone, theoretically for good. He can take what happens this week and build on it, unlike last year when his plans to play a full schedule fizzled in February.
“This is very different. Last year I was still struggling a little bit with pain. I was able to hit some good shots, able to play,” Woods said.
“Looking back, I looked like it was playing in slo-mo. That was as hard as I could hit it. I didn’t realize how bad my back had become. It has been a slow degrading process. I thought it was playing halfway decent. Shot some good scores. Now I look back on it and I didn’t have much at all.”
In casual games at home with friends – Woods said he’s played with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Daniel Berger among others – he has been encouraged by how he’s played.
He wants his two children to see him play at or near his best now that they can appreciate it. Woods also wants the younger generation of Tour players to see in person what most of them only saw on television as youngsters.
“In an ideal world I would like them feel what some of the past guys had to feel,” Woods said.