Same setting, same logoed backdrop, one year later.
It was impossible to watch Tiger Woods’ news conference Tuesday at the Hero World Challenge and not think back to last year. Unable to get out of bed without assistance, he painted a bleak picture about his future.
It was the first sign that 2016 would be a lost campaign, and indeed it was. He progressed, slowly, and missed all four majors for the first time in his career. He was scheduled to return at the Safeway Open in October but withdrew three days before the start of the event, admitting that his game was “vulnerable.”
But now, four weeks before his 41st birthday, nearly 16 months after his last competitive round, Woods is set to make his long-awaited return to golf.
Could you have imagined that 365 days ago?
“Things have improved so much that I’m able to come back here and do this again,” he said Tuesday. “It hasn’t been easy. People around me who know me, they know how hard it’s been to get to this point. It has taken a lot of work, but I’m here.”
“I don’t know. … There’s really nothing I can look forward to, nothing I can build toward.” – Woods, Dec. 1, 2015, on the timetable for his return
Today, he is beginning the final act of his career. The last 15 months have tested Woods’ resolve, and his patience. “That’s not exactly one of my hallmarks,” he said, grinning. In the past, he has rushed back from injury, only to suffer a setback and start all over again. The toll of this injury led him to contemplate retirement. “There was a lot of trepidation, and I did think of that,” he said, “because it was realistic.”
But this time, faced with the likelihood that his body can’t withstand another procedure, he took a more measured approach with his comeback.
He remains coy on some aspects of his health. As long as he continues to play, though, he’ll need to monitor his back. He’ll need treatment before and after each round. He’ll need to prepare differently.
He didn’t play in Napa, he said, because he “didn’t feel right about it,” physically or mentally. The Ryder Cup may have been an important week for personal growth, but it derailed his progress. After losing a week of practice, he needed to get stronger. He needed to add more shots to his arsenal.
The extra time apparently helped. Earlier this week, he told reporters: “I can hit all the shots now, on call.”
“I walk. I walk. And I walk some more.” – Woods, on his level of functionality
Today, he trains. Not like he used to, of course, and seven surgeries ensure that he never will. But he rides 50 to 70 miles on his bike. He runs with his kids. He walks for two to three hours on a treadmill.
It was hard work, getting back into golf shape. Training for this event, he twice summoned caddie Joe LaCava to South Florida. They walked nine holes, and then 18 holes, and then simulated a tournament, with four rounds of 18 holes.
“I’m really good at playing video games.” – Woods, on how he passes his time
Today, he spends more time in front of a TrackMan monitor than a flat-screen TV. With Nike exiting the golf-equipment business, Woods is free to use any equipment he chooses. This week, at least, he’ll play with TaylorMade woods, Nike irons and wedges, and ol’ trusty, his Scotty Cameron putter. The tinkering process is still ongoing, however.
“I’m trying to learn the new terminology,” he said, “while trying to implement some of my old feels and some of the things that have made me successful throughout the years.”
“Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? I don’t know.” – Woods, on his outlook
Today, Woods said that he’s “at the beginning stages” of his evolution. The only way he’ll find out how he’s developing, how he stacks up against today’s top players is to compete against them – even in an end-of-season, 18-man cash grab with free world-ranking points.
Woods said his peers have aided his comeback. A lone wolf during his prime, he now craves the camaraderie of Tour life. In calls, texts, dinners at his restaurant, practice rounds at Medalist and the Ryder Cup, Tour players – many of whom grew up idolizing him – have offered their overwhelming support for Woods.
“I’ve had a lot more close friends out here than I thought,” he said.
“I think pretty much everything beyond this will be gravy.” – Woods, on his expectations for the future
Today, he concedes only that he’ll have to find “different ways of doing it” on the course. His biggest concerns aren’t his errant driving, or his chipping yips, or his shaky putting. No, none of that. He’s worried about managing the surges of adrenaline during tournament play.
“As far as concerns besides that,” he said, “no. Confident.”
Physically, he wants to play a full schedule of 20-plus events for the next decade, until he’s eligible for the senior circuit. “Can I?” he said. “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
That’s why he has set up the next phase of his life, TGR. He made multiple references Tuesday to “unifying his brands,” which will allow him to focus less on business and more on golf, at least for as long as he’s physically able.
Tuesday in the Bahamas, in front of the same Hero backdrop, nearly 365 days after his grim news conference, Woods said something that he wasn’t able to say a year ago – wasn’t able to even consider it, really.
“I’m going to try to do the same thing I always do,” he said. “I’m entering an event, so I’m going to try and win this thing.”