The PGA Tour doesn’t usually generate much attention at this time of year, but that was all about to change with the buzz building over the return of Tiger Woods. Slated to tee it up in the first event of the new PGA Tour season at the Safeway Open in Napa, California, Woods abruptly withdrew on the Monday of tournament week stating that his game was not yet ready to take on the best players in the world. The much anticipated return of the 40-year-old superstar is going to have to wait at least two more months. His next scheduled appearance is the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas the first week of December. If he can stay healthy, and get his game back, Woods will presumably resume a full schedule in 2017.
Tiger Woods, who burst on the scene 20 years ago with his “Hello, World” at the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open, last played a PGA Tour event, the Wyndham Championship, in August 2015 where he finished tied for 10th, his best finish of the year on a creaky back. He underwent microdiscectomy back surgery soon after, followed by two additional procedures, and he’s been on the shelf since Wyndham. He missed all four majors in 2016, the first time that’s happened in his career and in interviews, he has often sounded bleak about his prospects of playing again at a high level. This is the fifth time since 2008 that he’s missed three months or more because of injuries, and even Woods has had to grudgingly acknowledge that his rushed returns in the past did him no favors. But unlike prior comebacks, Tiger says that he has been smart about his recovery this time around. The question now is whether he can get his game back to a standard that he can accept. That’s a tall order.
For the past six to eight months all we’ve really seen of Tiger is shots of him with his young children, at corporate outings, and at the Ryder Cup, where he served as a vice captain to Davis Love III, and to many observers the game isn’t anywhere near as interesting without the 14-time major champion in the field. Everyone from the PGA Tour to his fellow players, sponsors, and fans is hoping for the day he tees it up again. And in the few glimpses we’ve seen of Tiger over the past month, crushing drives at a junior clinic and in a full warm-up session on the range at his new course design Bluejack National, he seems healthy. But then those have just been baby steps. You don’t go from the range to the PGA Tour overnight.
Assuming that we’ll see him once again prowling the fairways of the PGA Tour, what can we expect of Tiger Woods after his return from major back surgery? With 79 wins on the PGA Tour, he has nothing to prove to anybody, but expect him to win if his back holds up. He is after all a competitor, not an oddity, and no one has done more for the game of golf or drawn more interest to the game in the past 20 years like Tiger Woods. And the sport has missed him desperately. Today’s Tour players would be the first to admit that purses are what they are today largely because of what Tiger has done over the past two decades.
While there are no guarantees on how well Tiger can play, whether he’ll win another major, or even win again, make no mistake, the cameras and the spotlight of the entire golf world will be on Tiger Woods once again when he finally puts his tee in the ground at a PGA Tour event. Let’s hope that’s sooner than later.