There has always been a magnetism to Tiger Woods, a pull to see him, to watch him, to study him.
It feels heightened this week with Woods’ return to a public life nine months after his life-threatening auto accident.
He walked without a significant limp but he admits he’s best on flat surfaces. His arms and upper body show the time he’s put into training. His presence – he sounds like a man who understands how fortunate he is to be alive and with two functioning legs – was both a relief and a reason to smile.
If the question before Woods’ first public appearance was whether he would be able to play golf again, he spun it forward to suggest he hopes to play tournament golf again.
When and how often remain open-ended questions.
“I won’t have the opportunity to practice given the condition of my leg … I just don’t.” – Tiger Woods
The days of Woods being a full-time golfer are gone. With his 46th birthday coming Dec. 30, Woods had already reached an age where cutting back his playing schedule was a growing consideration. The accident made the decision for him.
“I won’t have the opportunity to practice given the condition of my leg … I just don’t,” Woods said.
“I’ll just have a different way of doing it and that’s OK. I’m at peace with that. I’ve made the climb enough times.
“I don’t foresee this leg ever being what it used to be, hence I’ll never have the back what it used to be. And the clock’s ticking. I’m getting older. I’m not getting any younger.
“All that combined means that a full schedule and a full practice schedule and the recovery that it would take to do that, no, I don’t have any desire to do that.”
What Woods envisions – and he is the master of setting high goals and achieving them – is playing tournament golf the way Ben Hogan played it after his devastating auto accident in 1949.
Hogan never played more than six events in a season after his accident and he only played that many one time. Most years he played three or four times, the majors mostly, but what his schedule lacked in quantity it more than made up for in quality.
In Hogan’s first four years after his accident, he played 18 tournaments. He won 10 of those events including his remarkable 1953 season when he won five tournaments, including the Masters, the U.S. Open and the Open Championship.
“To ramp up for a few events a year as Mr. Hogan did, he did a pretty good job of it, and there’s no reason that I can’t do that and feel ready,” Woods said.
“I may not be tournament sharp in the sense I haven’t played tournaments, but I think if you practice correctly and you do it correctly … I’ve come off surgeries before; I’ve come off long layoffs and I’ve won or come close to winning before. So I know the recipe for it. I’ve just got to get to a point where I feel comfortable enough where I can do that again.”
What would a Hogan-like schedule look like for Woods?
He loves the majors. That’s one reason he’s won 15 of them. It’s reasonable to assume he would build his truncated schedule around those events. He hosts the Genesis Invitational and the Hero World Challenge. Plus there’s the Players Championship.
But it’s not as easy as saying, “pencil him into the four majors and anything else he happens to play will be a bonus.” Woods was in a hospital bed for three months after his accident wondering if he would ever play golf again.
He’s telling everyone to slow down on the expectations. And that’s fair.
Will he be able to handle the hills at Augusta National? It’s a physically demanding course and handling four tournament days of walking there is difficult for players in good shape. Woods would be attempting to do it on a right leg that will never be as good as it was.
The Stadium Course at Sawgrass, site of the Players Championship, is Florida flat which would make it easier on Woods, not that he has ever been afraid of a physical challenge.
The same goes for the Old Course at St. Andrews where the 150th Open Championship will be played in July. It manages to endure as one of the game’s greatest tests without a true hill or a tree intruding on play.
That’s getting ahead of reality, however.
If Woods gets his game back where he wants it, maybe he will play four or five times a year. That would be plenty.
To this point, Woods has hit a few shots and played a few holes but he’s lost his distance. He jokingly lobbied for the USGA’s old “Play It Forward” initiative, intended to convince golfers to play shorter courses. It’s his reality at the moment. Maybe not forever but for now.
“I haven’t proven to myself that I can do it,” he said. “I can show up here (at the Hero World Challenge) and I can host an event. I can play a par‑3 course. I can hit a few shots. I can chip and putt. But we’re talking about going out there and playing against the world’s best on the most difficult golf courses under the most difficult conditions. I’m so far from that.
“I have a long way to go to get to that point. Now, I haven’t decided whether or not I want to get to that point. I’ve got to get my leg to a point where that decision can be made. And we’ll see what happens when I get to that point but I’ve got a long way to go with this leg.”
Woods said he would love to play in the Open Championship next summer but that may be optimistic. It could take a year or more for him to get his game where he would feel comfortable taking it into competition. He may never get it there.
Here’s another long-range thought since Woods has sparked our imaginations again:
What if he pointed toward the 2026 U.S. Senior Open where he could become the first player to ever win four different USGA championships?
Just a thought.
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