August 14, 2022

Tiger Woods speaks on his horrific leg injury, road to recovery and playing future at major championships

Tiger Woods spoke publicly for the first time in nearly a year while making an appearance at the 2021 Hero World Challenge on Tuesday. Since a horrific car wreck in late February left Woods in a hospital bed for several weeks and at home in a wheelchair for a long period of time after that, Woods has not released much information at all outside of minor updates assuring golf fans that he was progressing.

A little over a week ago, we saw him swing a golf club for the first time since last December when he played in the PNC Championship with his son, Charlie. The clip was just 3 seconds long. On Monday, a lengthy interview with Golf Digest dropped, leaving us with some interesting nuggets including an admission from Woods that he will never play a full schedule again and that he doesn’t think he’ll “have the body to climb Mount Everest, and that’s OK.”

Still, there were plenty else to address and numerous questions to ask the 15-time major winner. On Tuesday, he spoke for 45 minutes about his accident, his life and what a potential comeback could look like him over the next few years. Here’s a look at everything meaningful that he said.

On this recovery compared to others: “This one’s been much more difficult [than the 10 combined on my knee and back]. The knee stuff that I had on my left knee, those operations were one thing, that’s one level. Then you add the back, that’s another level. And then with this right leg … it’s hard to explain how difficult it has been just to be immobile for the three months, just lay there and I was just looking forward to getting outside. That was a goal of mine.”

Woods has said this multiple times now, and it remains incredibly sobering to read about one of the great athletes of all time longingly looking out the window wanting to be among myriad south Florida avian species and Bermuda turf.

On when he’ll return to the PGA Tour: “As far as playing at the Tour level, I don’t know when that’s going to happen. Now, I’ll play a round here or there, a little hit and giggle, I can do something like that. … To see some of my shots fall out of the sky a lot shorter than they used to is a little eye-opening, but at least I’m able to do it again. That’s something that for a while there it didn’t look like I was going to.”

Tiger also said he enjoys playing forward tees and chipping and putting but repeatedly insinuated that he’s unsure if his right leg will cooperate to the point that he’ll be able to compete at either a PGA Tour or major championship level ever again.

On what he remembers from the accident: “Yeah, all those answers have been answered in the investigation, so you can read about all that there in the post report.”

It’s probably not surprising, but Woods wouldn’t touch anything about his accident other than to say that he “refused to turn on the local channels and news” and that he “wasn’t mentally ready for that road” when he was laying in a hospital bed. I do wish he would have addressed the accident for a few reasons. First, there’s been a pattern of driving incidents that deserves to be addressed. Also, whenever Woods opens up about personal problems, it humanizes him and empowers others to do the same.

On his general future: “Well, I’ve made the climb up there a few times, and I’ve had a pretty good run in my career. I just knew that once I came back from the spinal fusion surgery, I still had my hands. … So I came back here in 2017 and played in the Hero event … Then I started back in 2018 and started playing a little bit more and I started building. Once I started building, I realized after Tampa that I could win. Then I proved to myself that I could take the lead in the British Open. Well, I could close. Even though I did not win, I closed pretty good at the PGA at Bellerive, and then 2019 I won the Masters. I don’t see that type of trend going forward for me. I won’t have the opportunity to practice given the condition of my leg and build up. I just don’t. I’ll just have a different way of doing it, and that’s okay and I’m at peace with that, I’ve made the climb enough times.”

Tiger keeps waving the white flag, even if everyone refuses to accept it.

On accepting this new future: “It’s very easy, given the fact that I was able to come back after the fusion surgery and do what I did. I got that last major, and I ticked off two more events along the way. 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 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. But to ramp up for a few events a year as I alluded to yesterday as Mr. [Ben] Hogan did, he did a pretty good job of it, and there’s no reason that I can’t do that and feel ready.”

Another white flag, but an encouraging one because it seems like Woods has reconciled his past with his future. That’s a tough thing to do, and he’ll likely have to do it repeatedly for the next 10-15 years. The line, “I got that last major” will get all the attention, but don’t let it distract you from, “I don’t have any desire to do that.” When have we ever heard Tiger say something like that?

He’s an almost-46-year-old in an almost-63-year-old’s body, and his soul seems tired. Whose wouldn’t be? This, of all the things he said on Tuesday, is the one that’s painted the clearest picture of his future. Not only has he internalized that he has, in fact, won his last major championship, he has no desire to put himself through the physical, mental and emotional suffering it would take in the future to even get to the point where he would have a 2% chance of winning another one.

On the 2019 Masters: “It was a surprise to [my kids] when they realized I could play the game. That’s why the Masters was such an important family moment for all of us. For my mom, Sam and Charlie, all of my friends, because … [the injury portion of my career is] what they’ve seen, that’s what they’ve grown up with. They don’t remember any of these other times because they weren’t alive yet or they were too young to remember.”

As time continues to slip away, Tiger’s 2019 Masters win, like Phil Mickelson’s 2021 PGA Championship win, will only become more improbable and incredible than it was when it happened.

On playing the 150th Open Championship next year: “I would love to play at St. Andrews, there’s no doubt about it. It’s my favorite golf course in the world. To be a two-time Open champion there, just being a part of the champions dinner is really neat. … Those are things like at the Masters, those dinners are priceless and those stories and listen to them talk about how they played, when they played it and what they did, it’s just an honor to be a part of a room like that. … Physically, hopefully I can. I’ve got to get there first.”

It really would be the perfect spot for him to return.

On breakaway leagues: “I’ve decided for myself that I’m supporting the PGA Tour. That’s where my legacy is. I’ve been fortunate enough to have won 82 events on this tour and 15 major championships and been a part of the World Golf Championships, the start of them and the end of them. So I have an allegiance to the PGA Tour.”

Tiger doesn’t have the same sway he once did because, well, he’s not actually playing golf, but this is a nice victory (if only a small one) for the PGA Tour in the war going on in the background for the future of men’s professional golf.

On potentially losing his leg: “I said it [Monday]: I’m lucky to be alive but also still have the limb. Those are two crucial things. I’m very grateful that someone upstairs was taking care of me, that I’m able to not only be here but also to walk without a prosthesis.”

At the time, it felt surreal to discuss and even interview a variety of medical professionals about the reality that Woods could lose his leg, but it turns out that this wasn’t really overstated at all. He referenced it recently as close to a 50-50 possibility, which is more or less what everyone thought in the moment. The thought of Tiger walking around with a prosthetic is both sobering and a reminder of just how serious his accident was.

On getting his leg ready for competition: “Am I going to put my family through it again? Am I going to put myself out there again? We had a talk within the family. All of us sat down and said, ‘If this leg cooperates and I get to a point where I can play the Tour, is it OK with you guys if I try and do it?’ The consensus was yes. Now, internally, I haven’t reached that point. I haven’t proven it to myself that I can do it. …. 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. Now, I have a long way to go to get to that point. 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.”

The theme here is consistent. Tiger seems unsure if his right leg will allow him to even have the choice of competing at a major championship level again. And even if there’s the chance that it could, it sound questionable that he’s even willing to put himself through the level of immense, private suffering and work it would take to make it happen. To just get to the point where he could feasibly choose to “put myself out there again,” which, by the way, he also might not choose to do even if he’s healthy enough to do so.

This echoes what Woods said earlier about not having a desire to put himself through what’s necessary to play a full schedule. This is a departure from, well, the rest of his life. His disposition has always been that if his body is willing, everything else will follow. Now? Even if the knee and the back and the leg are all synced up for the same extended period of time, the fight that has always defined Tiger Woods (and in fact made him who he is) seems to have diminished and possibly even fully disappeared along the way.