When the news broke Tuesday afternoon that Tiger Woods had undergone yet another procedure on his back – that’s five now – it was a jolt like the pain from an old injury reminding you it’s still there.
Wishing – and fusion surgery – was never going to be enough to make Tiger’s back whole again and the statement announcing Woods recently underwent another microdiscectomy to remove a pressurized disc fragment was a disheartening reminder of reality.
He’s 45. His back is fused in one spot. On good days it’s tight and tender. On other days, it’s profoundly unpleasant.
Now we’re left to wonder – again – about what it means for the guy who has played the greatest golf ever.
The alarmist take is that this is a procedure too far, an accent mark on the three similar procedures (one in 2014, two in 2015) and the last-ditch fusion (in 2017) that allowed him to be Tiger Woods again. At some point, the thinking goes, it will have been too much.
Even to the most optimistic, the news had to produce a disappointing sigh.
It was easy to think it was too much to overcome the other times and then he won the 2018 Tour Championship, the 2019 Masters and he tied Sam Snead atop the PGA Tour career victory list by winning the Zozo Championship two Octobers ago.
There has never been a more willful player than Woods and that’s what will drive him again, assuming he wants to continue the fight.
Though he has good days and bad days, and it takes hours, not minutes for him to prepare to play, Woods seems to have found a new joy in the game these past few years. If the joy was in the conquest while he was stacking up trophies and reconfiguring the history books, his joy now seems to come from being part of the game he once dominated.
Woods will never be one of the guys but he’s closer to that now than ever before. That, and playing with son Charlie, may be what drives him this time.
Still, this is another chunk of time spent starting over, or at least retracing his steps. He knows how this process works.
“I have to train in order to practice, and I have to get my back loose enough to where I’m able to practice. That’s just the way it is.” – Tiger Woods
It’s unclear how long Woods will be sidelined by this latest procedure. In the announcement released by his TGR Foundation, no timetable for his return was mentioned. The statement did not specify when the procedure was performed.
“I look forward to begin training and am focused on getting back out on tour,” Woods said in the statement.
Woods was expected to begin his 2021 season next week at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, an event he has won seven times. He also was expected to play at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club in February, an event his foundation hosts.
He will not play in either of those events.
When Woods will next play is unclear. The Players Championship is seven weeks away and the Masters begins in less than three months.
According to the statement, Woods developed discomfort after playing in the PNC Championship with his son in December. In the statement, doctors said the procedure was successful and that Woods should have a full recovery.
Before the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in September, Woods talked about the physical challenges he faces.
“Whether or not I feel physically good enough where I can put in the practice, that’s my unfortunate reality. I’ve had four back surgeries. Trying to be healthy enough so that I can practice and I’m able to spend the time that I want, that I need to,” Woods said.
“I have to train in order to practice, and I have to get my back loose enough to where I’m able to practice. That’s just the way it is.”
Especially after the pandemic-interrupted 2020 schedule, this is an enormous year for men’s professional golf. In addition to the majors and the Players Championship, the Olympic Games and the Ryder Cup all are scheduled in the next nine months.
With the likely exception of the Olympics (where he has fallen well down the qualifying list), Woods will be a prominent figure in each of them if he’s healthy enough to play. He’s no longer the player to beat, but as he showed at the 2019 Masters he still has the gift for winning tournaments.
All of that is on hold again.
The question is for how long.
Top photo: Donald Miralle, Getty Images
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