Tiger Woods' slow track back to the golf course

Dan Wetzel
Columnist

Tiger Woods always did everything fast – swing a club, live his life, win majors. Now his only road back to professional golf may be to exhibit a level of patience, a belief in the long road that he never used to need.

Woods essentially announced in a blog post on Wednesday he would miss all four major championships this year. He is likely done for the entire year. The recent fusion surgery on his back has left him feeling better but nowhere near returning to strenuous activity.

“I can’t twist for another two and a half to three months,” he wrote.

If he can’t twist, he can’t swing. The U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship will all be played in the next two and half months. With April’s Masters already skipped, there goes 2017. He hasn’t played in a major since missing the cut in the 2015 PGA.

Maybe Augusta in 2018 has a chance.

“Presently, I’m not looking ahead,” Woods wrote. “Right now, my sole focus is rehab and doing what the doctors tell me. I am concentrating on short-term goals.”

If anything this is a positive for Woods fans that want the sport’s most dynamic star to return to play. No one – or at least no one shouldn’t – expect the “old Tiger” to exist again. Injuries and age (41) have made that person but a glorious memory. It’s long been delusional to believe there is a magic switch to flick here.

Tiger playing at all is now the hope. Maybe he can electrify a course with a great round. Maybe he can contend some weeks. Maybe there is even a push in a major again. He hasn’t won one of those since the 2008 U.S. Open. He is likely to end his career ranked second in career majors, his 14 forever trailing Jack Nicklaus’ 18. His ultimate goal will never be achieved, but his impact on the history of the game can’t be denied.

That’s OK, though. Any Tiger on the course is better than no Tiger for his fans – and even his detractors. In his blog post, the guy sounds humble (about his station in life) and humbled (by the battle against his back).

Fusion surgery was a bold play for Woods, as he acknowledges. There was endless research and debate and handwringing. “Exhaustive,” he called it. He’s spent years trying to manage nerve pain, trying to find temporary solace, trying to eke out a week here or there on the course.

It hasn’t worked.

“I could no longer live with the pain I had,” Woods said. “We tried every possible non-surgical route and nothing worked. I had good days and bad days, but the pain was usually there, and I couldn’t do much. Even lying down hurt. I had nerve pain with anything I did and was at the end of my rope.”

So now the charade that a comeback was imminent is gone. Now it’s no timetable, no specifics, no bull. Tiger’s posts on his website have always held a bit of Iraqi Information Minister to them – gleeful updates on how close he is when he hasn’t been close for years now.

This one was simpler. It spent plenty of time focusing on a recent charity event and thanking those who ran it in his absence. It was also positive about small things – not the vision of hoisting a trophy, but simply living his life pain-free.

“It was instant nerve relief [after the fusion surgery],” he wrote. “I haven’t felt this good in years.”

“I can have a life again with my kids,” he noted later.

And then there was this:

“I want to say unequivocally, I want to play professional golf again.”

No mention of winning. No mention of green jackets. No mention on being ranked No. 1 again.

He just wants to play.

Golf is more interesting with Tiger, even if he isn’t in position to challenge the best of the best each week. He adds personality. The idea of elder statesman Tiger lurking across a PGA season is fun. A return of the red-clad Sundays is now throwback cool. He doesn’t have to be what he once was.

Golf just wants him to be something other than the sad story he’s become … a ghost reminding of wilder days gone by, of injury robbing the game of memories that could have been, of slipping in and out of Augusta for the Champion’s Dinner without fans getting the chance to cheer for him or remind him of what he has meant to them.

That isn’t happening again with patchwork rehabs. Fusion surgery may have ended his career. Or it may have saved it. There is no telling. At least not now.

“As for returning to competitive golf, the long-term prognosis is positive,” he wrote. “My surgeon and physiotherapist say the operation was successful. It’s just a matter of not screwing up and letting it fuse. I’m walking and doing my exercises, and taking my kids to and from school. All I can do is take it day by day. There’s no hurry.”

Tiger Woods … in no hurry. Maybe that’s what will get him back to the game.

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