BETHESDA, Md. – The storied life and times of Tiger Woods has come down to the minutia. Well that, and the medical limitations of a 38-year-old body.
Playing catch with his son Charlie, the tediousness of rehabilitation, a little chipping and putting, and video games. “I’ve gotten damn good at video games,” he smiled on Monday.
Last we saw, Woods was closing with a 78 at Doral on his way to a tie for 25th place. Less than a month later, we learned that he’d undergone back surgery and was firmly entrenched on the extended DL.
The radio silence since that announcement has been deafening.
Woods missed his first Masters as a professional last month and The Players, where he would have been the defending champion. The speculation regarding his possible return has been talking point No. 1 in many circles.
On Monday at media day for his Quicken Loans National at Congressional, there still were no answers as to when he may return.
“There is no timetable,” Woods said. “That’s been kind of the realization through all this. There is no date. It’s not going to be up to me if I play, that’s up to my docs. I’d like to play now.”
Monday marks the seven-week anniversary of Woods’ microdiscectomy, a procedure most medical experts say takes between seven to eight weeks to recover from, and if the former world No. 1 was a little light on details regarding his intended return to action there were glimpses of how this ordeal, more so than the surgeries and injuries that came before, has impacted him.
For starters, he’s a model patient.
Listening to doctors has not always been one of Woods’ main attributes (see Open, U.S. 2008). But as he explained on Monday, his return to action is out of his hands.
His most recent run in with the MRI machine also seems to have come with a healthy dose of reality and brought into focus a legacy that is no longer as clear as it once was.
“I’d love to be out there and competing and playing. I would like to go out on my own terms,” he said. “Prior to the surgery I didn’t think I’d have much of a playing career if I felt like this. Now I’ve had the procedure and I’m excited about my career.”
Consider that transition. Woods has gone from being destined to catch Jack Nicklaus’ major mark of 18 Grand Slam titles to contemplating retirement plans in a five-year window.
There were always going to be doubts. A player who dug his greatness out of the turf was always going to find himself wrestling with the medical reality that while his mind remained strong, the body was less than willing.
“The only doubts that I had were prior to the surgery. I couldn’t function anymore,” he allowed. “I’ve had knee surgeries in the past, yeah I was hurting, but I was functioning. The time before the surgery I couldn’t do much.”
By comparison, his time since surgery in Utah on March 31 has fueled the belief that if he can remain out of the doctor’s office Nicklaus’ record is still within reach.
The signs of that were written on his scorecard on Saturday at the Honda Classic, when he blazed around PGA National in 65 strokes, and at Doral when he signed for a third-round 66. But those breakthroughs were followed by an injury-induced withdrawal at the Honda and a closing 78 in South Florida.
On Monday, Woods was asked if he considered having his back surgery during the off-season?
“No, (delaying) surgery was not a possibility,” Woods said. “With strengthening and time off and (anti-inflammatories) we felt that we could manage it and I could still play at an elite level ... but unfortunately that just didn't pan out.”
This process, more so than his previous injuries, has also brought into sharp focus the shifting landscape of an aging athlete.
A workout regimen that has always been on the boot camp side of intense will likely be the first adjustment as Woods moves forward, as well as possible tweaks to his swing.
“We’re going to make some changes with that,” Woods said. “When I first came out on Tour I was running 30 miles a week, and I was doing it for years. I can't do that anymore.”
Speculation remains as to when Woods may be able to come off the bench. There had been reports he was targeting the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, where he won the claret jug in the event’s last trip to Hoylake, as a possible comeback, while most observers said the PGA Championship in August is a more realistic debate.
This much is clear, Woods remains determined to come back only when his doctors say he can. Not a moment sooner.
As to how long he would need after getting the green light to work his way back to game shape, Woods – who dropped to No. 2 in the world behind Adam Scott on Monday – was reluctant to speculate.
“I don’t know when I come back how far I am away from being explosive,” he said. “Do I still have that capability to hit the ball like that? I don’t think it will take more than a couple weeks (to be ready to play).”
Until then, Woods is content to endure the minutia. And the video games, plenty of video games.