Just before noon on Wednesday at his new Florida watering hole, Tiger Woods was scheduled to speak with the U.S. media for the first time since undergoing his second microdisectomy surgery.
He would have told the gathered scribes that it’s “certainly disappointing,” but that he anticipates a “full recovery,” because that’s what he said in a statement on his website following the September surgery, and no one stays on message better than Woods.
But Tiger was unable to explain any this on Wednesday at The Woods Jupiter because of another “procedure” last month to “relieve discomfort” in his back.
Instead, he is on “bed rest” and will also miss his final design visit to Bluejack National outside of Houston this week. He has subtly downgraded his immediate competitive outlook from “as soon as possible” next season to having “no timetable.”
Although that open-ended outlook isn’t what fans were hoping for, it may be the most forthright assessment Woods has served up in some time.
Considering the revolving door to the DL that has become Woods’ reality for the better part of the last decade, he’s played the PGA Tour minimum of at least 15 events just five times since 2006, a more measured comeback may be the best option.
“For a lot of high-level athletes who have not come back to the level of performance that they had once had it is because they were in a rush to get back,” said Randy Myers, director of fitness at Sea Island (Ga.) Resort. “Not Tiger specifically, but in general. You’ve never heard a Tour player say he waited too long to get back.”
Myers has seen the phenomenon repeated early and often – from Davis Love III, who underwent spinal-fusion surgery in 2013, to Brandt Snedeker, who has endured multiple hip surgeries, the long road to recovery far too often turns into a dangerous express lane.
This isn’t necessarily a Tiger problem as much as it is an athlete problem. Those who have spent a lifetime between the ropes are genetically averse to watching the action from the sidelines no matter how many voices preach caution.
Woods has certainly heard all the warnings, from his Utah surgeon to his fellow Tour players, including Love and Jason Bohn, who had the same microdisectomy surgery performed in 2008.
Bohn said he and Woods have discussed the unique set of challenges that come with back surgery, including the recovery timeline that Bohn said stretched for a full year before he felt “100 percent.”
“You’re body has changed and it will never be back to what it was,” Bohn said. “I don’t think it’s possible, scientifically, to get it back to exactly where it was. It could be better, it could be worse, but when you remove anything and cut anything, you’ve changed something.”
For Bohn, that meant rebuilding his golf swing with an eye toward avoiding similar injuries in the future. Woods has tried something similar, first teaming with Sean Foley and then Chris Como in an attempt to ward off continued issues with his back as well as his left knee.
Although Bohn and Woods are separated by 14 majors, there are more similarities than one would think between the two as patients if not players. Bohn was 35 when his ailing back sent him to the surgeon’s table (Woods is 39) and Bohn required three back surgeries (like Woods) to remedy the ailment.
Like Woods, Bohn also went through a major swing overhaul post-op.
“To a golfer who's done something his whole life a particular way, it’s like starting over,” Bohn said. “From the grip all the way to the rotation of the forearms, and every time you change one thing it reflects in another part of your game.”
Initially, Bohn – who won on Tour two years after surgery – said his rebuilt swing and back didn’t produce the same amount of power or consistency he was used to, but that evolved over time. He now says he’s a better “overall” player than he was before his assorted surgeries.
He also concedes that back surgeries, and the ensuing rehabilitation, do not come in one-size-fits-all helpings.
“Each individual recovers different from any type of surgery,” Bohn said.
Woods has referenced his general level of fitness as an advantage during the rehab process, although history suggests it may be a psychological Trojan Horse given his inability to stay out of the doctor’s office.
Woods won’t play his own Hero World Challenge, although he said he will be upright and in the Bahamas for next month’s event, which would be considered a victory of sorts. Depending on who you ask, wild speculation ranges from a return during next year’s Florida swing (Arnold Palmer Invitational) to an entire season on the bench.
But at this point it’s just that: wild speculation.
There was a melancholy edge to last Friday’s news that there had been a third procedure.
“There is no timetable for Woods’ return to the PGA Tour.”
Yet what some see as a too open-ended outlook may mean a more open-minded Woods. If this most recent setback leads to a longer view, and probably a longer stint on the DL, it all may be worth the wait.