Woods' return from back surgery offers challenges


BETHESDA, Md. – Tiger Woods didn’t make the cut.

He didn’t earn any prize money, no FedEx Cup or Ryder Cup points – although given his current playoff predicament (209th in points) the former may be more concerning than the latter – and after an abbreviated workweek at his own Quicken Loans National he didn’t answer many questions, at least not the kind most observers were looking to be filled in.

Woods’ game was, by his own assessment, at times “awful;” rounds of 74-75 that left him almost as close to last place (17 over par) as it did the cut (3 over par).

Between flashes of decent play, Woods launched the occasional foul ball off the tee, missed greens with wedges from the middle of the fairway and, perhaps most concerning of all, played more like a 14 handicap around the greens than a guy with 14 majors.

He missed 16 greens in two days and salvaged par on just three occasions, needed 61 putts to cover 36 holes and converted two putts outside 20 feet.

After 15 weeks of mostly chipping and putting around Casa Tiger following back surgery on March 31, the company line suggested he’d be closer to game ready around the greens than he would be off the tee.

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“That’s all I've been doing is chipping and putting. I hit some bad shots. Those are bad pitches, and those are the ones I should get up-and-down every time,” Woods said on Friday.

But if Woods’ short week left the golf world asking, “What will Tiger do next?” it did provide a measure of solace for the former world No. 1.

As he explained on Tuesday at Congressional, he’s dealt with his share of medical missteps in his Hall of Fame career, but this time was different.

This time the defiant core that drove him to win a U.S. Open on one leg was replaced by the reality that this injury could not be beaten by dogged determination and bravado.

“This was different,” he explained on Tuesday. “Anyone's that's had any kind of nerve impingement, it's no joke. That part was relieved as soon as I got out of the surgery. That nerve impingement, that pain that I was feeling going down my leg was gone. I've heard numerous people talk about it, and I've had people come up to me and say they had the same procedure and got their life back, and that's basically how I felt.”

One of those people Woods spoke to about the microdiscectomy was Jason Bohn, who underwent the same procedure in the summer of 2008.

“I couldn’t even go to the bathroom before I had the surgery,” said Bohn, who was one of the first players to welcome Woods back on Tuesday at Congressional. “Before the surgery I had no muscle function in my left leg; it had completely shut down.”

Bohn knows the inherent difficulties with having a microdiscectomy, primarily the divergent realities of being pain free – which, in Woods’ case, ended more than two years of flinches and spasms – and doctor’s orders to remain almost sedentary in the weeks just after surgery.

“The rehab is the most difficult thing because the rehab is zero,” Bohn said. “You can’t do anything, and we both talked about how difficult that is with your children. They see you, you’re home now and they want to play and you just can’t do it.”

The two kindred spirits also talked about the inevitable uncertainty of a return to competition. In Bohn’s case, his return was rushed by peculiar circumstances.

Bohn needed two late starts in 2008 to maintain his status and conceded he was not Tour ready when he set out at the Ginn sur Mer Classic in November, just months after his surgery.

“There is so much apprehension. When you’re hitting out of the rough you’re thinking, ‘Am I going to hurt something?’” Bohn said.

Whatever Woods failed to prove to the media or fans there was a distinct feeling that despite his “awful” play at the Quicken Loans National he cleared a much more important psychological hurdle.

As pedestrian as Woods’ short game was he became more and more aggressive off the tee as two hot days in the nation’s capital wore on. He may not have worked his way back to “game speed,” but for a guy who has now missed just 10 cuts on the PGA Tour as professional he seemed less concerned with his score than his psyche.

“I hate to say it but I'm really encouraged by what happened this week,” Woods said on his way out of town. “As I said, I missed the cut by four shots. That's a lot. But the fact that what I was able to do physically and the speed I had and distance that I was hitting the golf ball again, I had not done that in a very long time.”

While the Open Championship, which is expected to be Woods’ next start, remains a mystery for the last man to hoist the claret jug at Royal Liverpool in 2006, he conquered his own internal dialogue.

Not bad for a guy who only put in half a week.