Nearly one year removed from the accident that nearly took his right leg (and his life for that matter), Tiger Woods is ready to get back to the PGA Tour. He just doesn’t know precisely when that will be.
On February 23 of last year, two days after wrapping up his duties as the host of the Genesis Invitational at famed Riviera Country Club, the 15-time major champion rolled his SUV into a field in a single-vehicle crash that easily could have been much worse than it was.
Now, that’s not to say it wasn’t bad, because it obviously was. Woods was rushed to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center following the accident, at which time a rod was inserted into his right leg to stabilize his femur and tibia bones. Pins and screws were also needed to stabilize brutal bone injuries to the ankle and foot. And Tiger has certainly undergone more procedures since that fateful day.
Tiger is back at Riviera this week to once again play host at the tournament where he made his PGA Tour debut as a 16-year-old back in 1992. Naturally, he discussed a return to the PGA Tour, which he says will happen. But, again, he just doesn’t know exactly when that will be. It’s one thing to ride in a cart and play a couple of rounds at the PNC with his son, which was great. But it’s another thing to walk four rounds and attempt to compete against the best players in the world on courses much more difficult than the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club.
I think it’s safe to assume that most people were hoping for Tiger to return at The Masters in April. But given his statements this week, that doesn’t seem like the greatest fit. I think another major championship is the better call here.
Tiger Woods has “a long way to go” before returning to the PGA Tour
Now, beyond the injuries sustained in the accident last year, it certainly can’t be forgotten that Tiger, who turned 46 in December, has already undergone multiple knee and back surgeries throughout his career, some of which sidelined him for long periods of time.
And he certainly wasn’t at 100% at the time of his accident anyway. During the final round of last year’s Genesis, Woods was in the broadcast booth and couldn’t even commit to The Masters as he’d undergone a fifth back surgery in December 2020. So there are still those underlying issues that can’t be ignored. And Tiger himself obviously hasn’t forgotten and reminded everyone when speaking to the media ahead of this year’s Genesis that his back is still an issue, saying it’s still difficult sitting upright in a chair for an extended period of time.
As for a return to competitive golf, Woods was emphatic in saying that it will happen. But it won’t happen anytime soon (h/t Golf.com).
“I wish I could tell you when I’m playing again. I want to know, but I don’t. My golf activity has been very limited. I can chip and putt really well and hit short irons very well, but I haven’t done any long stuff seriously. I’m still working.”Tiger Woods
But the “still working” part of that statement doesn’t just include swinging a golf club. There’s also the matter of walking a golf course, which Tiger brought up on multiple occasions in his presser at Riviera.
“I can walk on a treadmill all day, that’s easy. That’s just straight, there’s no bumps in the road. But walking on a golf course where there’s undulations, I have a long way to go.”Tiger Woods
And therein lies the problem with The Masters.
The Masters at hilly and undulating Augusta National isn’t ideal for Tiger’s comeback
As the 2022 edition of The Masters begins in less than two months on April 7, the likelihood of Woods teeing it up at Augusta National seems pretty low given the fact he still hasn’t worked on his long game, which is obviously pretty important these days. And maybe even more so now that Augusta has lengthened a couple of holes and will now play at more than 7,500 yards.
But the length of Augusta really isn’t the issue, as Woods will be just fine in terms of his length when he gets healthy. The biggest problem at Augusta for Tiger would be the ridiculous elevation changes. While it might not look like it on TV sometimes, that is one undulating and hilly joint, especially on the front side.
The par-5 second hole drops nearly 90 feet from tee to green, while the par-5 eighth is 72 feet uphill from tee to green. The drop from the 10th tee to the 10th green is approximately 110 feet. And then you have to walk back up to the 11th tee. There’s the drop at 15. There’s a significant ascension at 18. No, these guys aren’t carrying their own bags, but it’s still exhausting given the pressure they’re under.
So if Tiger can only walk on a treadmill right now, it’s doubtful — even with as great of an athlete as he is — that he’d be able to walk Augusta while also putting all that stress on his back and legs in swinging the club.
The Open Championship at St. Andrews seems ideal
So with Augusta not being the ideal location for Tiger’s big return, it seems to me that the most logical place would be a place where he’s had a ton of success — a flat place where he’s had a ton of success. And that would be the Old Course at St. Andrews for this year’s edition of The Open Championship, which begins on July 14.
So that gives Woods about five more months to get himself ready. It’s hard to say if that’s reasonable or not, but it’s at least longer than the two months before The Masters. And there really wouldn’t be any pressure on him to win — well, outside the pressure he’d undoubtedly put on himself. But as this very well could be the final time he’d have to play The Open at the home of golf, the story just writes itself.
And he’s obviously had plenty of success on the Old Course. During his ridiculous 2000 campaign, he shot a then-record 19-under and won The Open by eight strokes. Five years later, he collected a second Claret Jug at St. Andrews, winning by five with a score of 14-under. Okay, so he missed the cut the last time The Open was played on the Old Course in 2015 with rounds of 76 and 75. But who remembers that, right?
Look, as he doesn’t even know himself, nobody has any earthly idea when Woods will make his true return, one that doesn’t involve a cart and his talented son. Although let’s get real here, that was pretty incredible to watch Tiger and Charlie nearly win the PNC.
But golf fans around the world are waiting on that day. And whether it’s Augusta or the Old Course or anywhere else, we’ll all be watching.