NASSAU, Bahamas — Just because he has nothing left to prove on the golf course doesn’t mean that Tiger Woods has nothing left to gain by extending his competitive career as long as he possibly can. At this stage of the soon-to-be 47-year-old’s life, having been decimated by injuries that limit his competitive opportunities and severely compromise his prospects for adding to his incredible record, it’s all about personal satisfaction.
Woods won’t be competing as planned in this week’s Hero World Challenge, the limited-field event he hosts at Albany. In preparing for his first tournament since missing the cut in July in the Open Championship at St. Andrews, the 15-time major winner has been hobbled by a bout of plantar fasciitis, a painful foot affliction.
Speaking on Tuesday for the first time publicly since his early exit at the Old Course, Woods said he does still intend to play next week in “The Match,” a 12-hole exhibition with Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, and then team with son Charlie a week later at the PNC Championship; both outings allow the use of a cart.
But there is no telling how this latest malady in his right foot—which you can pile on top of all the knee surgeries, the multiple back surgeries, and, of course, his reconstructed right leg after that horrific 2021 auto accident—will impact his modest competitive plans for 2023.
“The goal is to play just the major championships and maybe one or two more,” Woods said. “That’s it. I mean, physically that’s all I can do. I don’t have much left in this leg, so gear up for the biggest ones and hopefully, you know, lightning catches in a bottle and I’m up there in contention with a chance to win and hopefully I remember how to do that. But again, giving myself a chance to get out there again.”
Woods, who played in three majors this year and made the cut in two of them, revealed that he underwent “a few more procedures [on his leg] because of playing,” which suggests that the operations occurred after the Open, where, he said, his leg “wasn’t working properly.” He declined to elaborate on the details of the procedures. (In response to Rory McIlroy’s recent comments that he might have passed COVID on to Woods ahead of the Open in July, Woods did say that he felt “under the weather” but never tested positive.)
In gearing up for this stretch of golf, including walking on the beach to simulate the walking requirements at sand-strewn Albany, Woods’ foot problems grew more severe, undoubtedly, he surmised, because of the compromised state of his right leg. He estimates that a month or two of rest will be required before he can ramp up again, obviously in time for the Masters, which he won for a fifth time three years ago.
Which, of course, begs the question why he is determined to put himself through the almost continual periods of rehabilitation? After an unparalleled career that includes a record-tying 82 PGA Tour titles and a mind-boggling 683 weeks as the No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Ranking, what’s the point?
“I love competing. You know, I love the sport,” he said. “I’ve been playing it for most … well, basically all my life. And you know, actually, I’ve been a pro for more than half my life. So, if you look at it in those terms, I’ve been a part of this sport and I’ve loved it. It’s just unfortunate I’m not able to do the things that I feel mentally I can do, the body just kind of rejects it.
“When I was at home, I was shooting four, five, six, seven under par like it was nothing, but I was in a cart. Now you add in walking and that goes away. So I need to get to where I can actually walk around and play that way. I’m not able to do that right now.”
It goes without saying that the clock is ticking on his ability to play at all. He certainly wouldn’t commit to a return to the Old Course, whenever the Open comes back to St. Andrews, perhaps in five years. “I don’t know what this leg is going to look like. Hopefully it’s still attached, but we’ll see,” he quipped.
For now, he’s just looking forward to playing again in the coming weeks with his son.
“This will be a tough week. How do you rest when you’re hosting a tournament? You know, it’s hard,” he said. “The Father-Son will be a very easy week. Charlie will just hit all the shots, and I’ll just get the putts out of the hole, so pretty easy there.”
An easy week on a golf course will be a welcome change.