Most athletes with an injury list as long and detailed as Tiger Woods would be retired from professional sport. Woods, however, is different to most athletes.
The 15-time major champion’s much-anticipated return to professional golf at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas wasn’t perfect, nor was it ever likely to be.
But in his first tournament in nearly eight months, Woods demonstrated that he can still be competitive at a high standard and that his desire to keep playing remains undiminished.
He finished on even par at Albany Golf Club on Sunday, placing 18th out of 20 on the overall leaderboard. His final round featured five birdies – including an excellent long putt on the fifth – as well as some wayward moments: a double bogey on the second hole and three further bogeys on the eighth, 11th and 16th.
All in all, there were some promising signs for the 47-year-old. Woods averaged 305 yards off the tee, proving that his long game is in good health, and he also showed that his beaten and ageing body can still withstand the rigors of four rounds of competitive golf.
“I think I’ve come a long way from being a little bit rusty to playing four days and knocking off a lot of rust, which was great,” Woods told Golf Channel after his final round.
“The physicality of actually playing and competing again – I haven’t done this in a while. It was nice to get out there with the guys and have some fun and compete. I just wish I could have played a little bit cleaner but there’s always next time.”
For Woods, next time will be the PNC Championship, a father-son tournament which tees off in Orlando, Florida on December 14.
This will be the fourth time in a row that Woods has entered the event alongside his son Charlie and his second tournament since undergoing ankle surgery in April.
In 2024, Woods hopes to play on the PGA Tour once a month. While competing in the Bahamas, he said that the Genesis Invitational in February and the Players Championship in March could be options as he steps up his competitive return.
From there, he could appear at the Masters in April and even at the Olympics in Paris later in the year.
“Once a month seems reasonable, and it gives me a couple of weeks to recover, a week to tune up,” Woods said on Sunday. “Maybe I can get into the rhythm of something like that. That’s what the plan was going into next year. I don’t see why that would change.”
During the Hero World Challenge, which Woods hosts, he said that he had been “pleasantly surprised” with his physical recovery between rounds.
He posted a two-under 70 on Friday, climbing to 15th on the leaderboard after a hit-and-miss opening round, and followed up with a 71 on Saturday.
But the most important thing will be that his body held up, some eight months after Woods said that he had endured “constant pain” while playing at the Masters.
The ankle surgery that followed his withdrawal at Augusta National in April was the latest in a long line of injuries which have forced Woods to take time away from golf; he suffered severe leg injuries in a car crash in 2021 and has also undergone surgeries on his back and left knee over the years.
Given what he has already achieved over the course of his decorated career – 15 major titles and a joint-record 82 PGA Tour wins – you could excuse Woods for wanting to walk away from the sport altogether.
“He could easily sail off into the sunset, never touch a club again, never do anything again – just go and live his life and enjoy the second half of his life, do whatever, hang out with his kids,” Scottie Scheffler, who won the Hero World Challenge by three shots, told reporters ahead of the tournament.
“But he continues to come back and wants to compete and he continues to do what’s best for the players and the PGA Tour. It’s pretty inspirational for the rest of us involved in the game.”
After his win on Sunday, Scheffler said that it was “very special” to see Woods back on a golf course, walking down the fairways in his iconic red and black outfit.
It could become a more common sight for the rest of the golfing world next year as one of the game’s greatest players continues to rage against the dying light.
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