Moments before Tiger Woods marched himself and his bum wheel in front of the assembled scribes on Tuesday in a leafy Philadelphia suburb he tweeted, “Almost press conference time. I’ll donate $1 million to (the Tiger Woods Foundation) if no one asks me about the leg.”
Glad to see the former alpha male hasn’t lost his sense of humor, or his perspective. Like the end-of-days ramblings of radio evangelist Harold Camping, the media’s take on Woods’ current bout with the “DL” may have been a tad exaggerated. At least compared with the darks days of 2007-08 when the same leg was keeping him from his day job.
“It’s not the doomsday some of the press members are writing about,” Woods said from Aronimink Golf Club during media day for the AT&T National. “I was more concerned in 2008 and finishing out in 2007. I’d never been through a period where I had to shut it down for six months. It’s a tough period. But this one is a cakewalk compared to that one.”
A cakewalk complete with crutches and a walking boot and copious amounts of ibuprofen. Not to mention wholesale amounts of uncertainty. If the press was looking for answers on Tuesday there were few to be had, just a collection of vague statements mixed amid the optimism. If Woods is overly concerned with his overdue bill of health he wasn’t showing it.
Will he play next week’s Memorial? “Doubtful.” Have doctors said he may need knee replacement surgery? “No one has ever mentioned that, no.” Will he be ready for next month’s U.S. Open? “All my docs said it should be ready by then.”
If Woods sounded as if his U.S. Open cup was half full on Tuesday it is because he was. Maybe it’s the perspective that comes with age or divorce or a fall from grace that is unrivaled in golf; whatever the tonic, neither his front-nine 42 at The Players nor his chronically ailing left leg has sent the world No. 12 into panic mode.
“I’m a lot better off (then I was in 2008),” said Woods, who only half-jokingly pointed out he’s wedged nine more competitive holes, a front-nine 42 at TPC Sawgrass, into his prep work for next month’s U.S. Open then he did in 2008, when he limped his way to his last major championship at Torrey Pines.
Since he hobbled off property in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Woods hasn’t hit a shot, has been confined to a boot to protect his frayed left Achilles tendon and crutches to keep the pressure off a left knee that has been operated on four times. That’s a Grand Slam of the wrong kind for Woods.
Treatment continues, including electronic stimulation, icing and deep-tissue therapy; and he hopes to begin strength training by the end of next week – which would seem to make next week’s Memorial “doubtful” indeed.
The only player to win a U.S. Open on one leg seems fixated on Congressional, much like he was in 2008. But somehow the guy who talked on Tuesday seemed a bit older, a bit more at ease with his plight than the ’08 version.
Prior to the 2008 Open Woods famously told doctors assembled in central Florida home that, “I am going to play (the Open) and I am going to win.” Asked if he envisioned a similar conversation in the next few weeks he sounded like a 35 year old with a four-times operated on left knee: “I’d rather take it slow and see how it progresses. Get ready for the Open and anything beyond that, I don’t know.”
Woods has started to temper expectations, maybe against his better judgment because that often means volunteering information. He did so prior to The Players, revealing his knee and Achilles injuries, and on Tuesday he washed away the ambiguity as best he could given the uncertainty of his situation.
He’s also started to ease back on a workout regimen that has long been viewed in Tour circles as too intense, particularly for a player with chronic knee problems.
“I don't lift anywhere near as much as I used to. I lift a lot smarter than I used to. I don't run anywhere near what I used to do. There were times I'd run between 4 and 6 miles before I'd go play. I don't do that anymore,” he said. “As you get older, you have to do things differently.”
If Tuesday’s Q&A is any indication, the gym doesn’t seem to be the only domain where Woods has started to color outside the traditional lines. A hurried return to competition – like the one that set the stage for his 2008 Open victory, perhaps the greatest of his career – seems to have been tempered by the long view.
If Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors is still the “benchmark,” as Woods called it on Tuesday, then at this point in time it is rest, not reps; perspective, not panic, that counts.
“It took Jack over what, 24 years, 23 years to do what he did? It takes time. I still have plenty of time, and I feel that going forward I'm excited about playing major championships and playing golf again,” said Woods, who will have 42 majors, not counting next month’s Open, to play before his 47th birthday. “I just want to be healthy and solid, and I feel like I can give it a go.”
Maybe the road to recovery is not as winding and unchartered as originally thought.
Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggard