Four weeks ago, before a packed house at cozy Aronimink Golf Club, Tiger Woods told anyone who would listen, or ask, that it would be his doctors – not his ego or his status in the game’s history books or even his overwhelming desire to change the conversation – that would decide when he returned to the competitive fray.
Let’s hope it was the collective doctors that prompted Thursday’s announcement that Woods will play next week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, and by default next month’s PGA Championship.
Let’s hope the left knee and Achilles injury he sustained under the famed Eisenhower Tree at Augusta National are rested, rehabbed and ready for Tiger 2.0 because the alternative will do no one any good. Not TV executives hungry for the ratings boost Woods brings, not the fans who have lined fairways hoping for the best but seeing something south of that, and certainly not for Woods.
Another front-nine 42 and early exit from Firestone, like the short work week that sent him packing from May’s Players Championship and onto the disabled list, will make only the bloggers happy.
What Woods needs, what golf needs, is a player who has completed his due diligence with his personal and physical issues, not a desperate star who has fallen to 21st in the world golf ranking and is sickened by the thought of watching another major from his couch.
It has been 11 weeks since Woods darted off property at TPC Sawgrass in a cloud of uncertainty and when he resurfaced at this month’s AT&T National he sounded like a changed man, like a man who had come to grips with his own physical limitations and opted for the long view.
“I'm being smarter this time,” he said at Aronimink. “All the years of playing when my knee wasn't very good and playing through it, you know, unfortunately I broke my leg and still played. That's not exactly smart. I'm going to do it differently this time. I am going to come back when I'm 100 percent ready, which is different for me.”
This was not, it seemed at the time, the same man who informed his medical team on the eve of the 2008 U.S. Open that not only was going to play the national championship but he was going to win it, broken leg and all.
Whether there was a similar conversation this time with the assembled medical minds may never be known. He said via his website on Thursday that he was “excited to get back out there” and that he “recently began hitting practice balls.”
Woods’ swing coach Sean Foley told GolfChannel.com on Wednesday morning that the two haven’t worked together on the practice range since The Players.
“I have seen him since then but we have just been chatting and setting a game plan for the future,” Foley said via text message. “This time off has been an excellent opportunity for us to put in place a plan with the big picture in mind.”
Firestone certainly makes sense. He’s won seven times on the Ohio layout and the World Golf Championship has no cut, which means he’s guaranteed a four-round rehab start before heading south to Atlanta Athletic Club, site of next month’s PGA. But then the South Course likely looked like easy pickings last year when he rolled into town looking for answers only to finish next-to-last in the field. A few days later he and Foley began officially working together.
The timing of Woods’ return to Tour life is even more curious considering his high-profile firing of longtime caddie Steve Williams last Wednesday. Even more surprising is news that Williams will be replaced by Woods’ friend Bryon Bell, who was implicated in media reports as an accessory to Woods’ marital transgressions in 2009.
More so than a stable left leg and a working grasp of Foley’s reworked action, Woods needs a calm mind if he is to start anew and reclaim his spot atop the world’s pack.
Woods, of all people, took the long view when quizzed about a possible timeline at Aronimink, saying, “There's no timetable. That's hard for me. I've always been very goal-oriented about when I'm going to play, how I'm going to peak, how I'm going to get ready, how my practice schedule is going to be, and I'm not doing that this time.”
For Woods, for the game, let’s hope this time is truly different.