WATCH: Tiger Woods is ready to compete after a lengthy layoff recovering from back surgery
Tiger Woods returns to golf for the first time since March this week, but the question is whether it is too early and whether he can be competitive.
Woods, perennially the world’s top golfer despite injuries in recent years, had back surgery on March 31 to deal with a disc issue. He missed the Masters and the U.S. Open and is using the Quicken Loans National tournament, where he is the host, as a tune up for the British Open at Royal Liverpool, where he won the last time the tournament was held there.
Woods insists he isn’t returning to early.
“I have great trainers, great physios, and they have been lock-step with my surgeon the entire time, and we have done all the protocols week-after-week,” Woods said in a press conference for the tournament. “We are always on calls, chatting with one another to see what the next step is going to be. As I alluded to when I first came here for the press conference, that we were—I was only chipping and putting, but that was going to be expanded. We had a game plan for how we were going to do that, and we did it, and I’ve been able to play and hit balls and hit drivers and go out there and do whatever I wanted to do.”
Woods said he started putting almost immediately after the surgery and moved to hitting longer clubs in recent weeks.
“That’s how it went to the point where I was out there hitting drivers a couple weeks ago, and then started playing golf,” he says. “I wanted to knock off a little bit of rust on the range before I actually went out there and tried not to embarrass myself on the golf course, and I was able to do that, got some holes in [and I] started feeling comfortable doing that.”
Woods admitted his initial attempts at playing in recent weeks weren’t overly successful.
“I broke 50 for nine, first time, just like I was when I was three,” he said, laughing. “So I’m sneaking up on it. My prime’s coming up.”
Canada’s Graham DeLaet, the country’s top-rated golfer, had a surgery very similar to Woods, and it kept him out of the game for an entire year. Even now he admits there are good days and days when his back isn’t as mobile.
“I’m not a doctor and I can’t compare with what he’s going through,” he says. “I know it took me a long time to get back, but he’s got great people around him. Two weeks before he had the surgery he was playing golf, for a month before mine I couldn’t sit down.”
The recovery was slower than DeLaet expected.
“From a day-to-day health perspective it felt fine,” he says of the months following the surgery. “But three days out of the week I didn’t feel like I was moving well enough. If I was hitting it at 75% I couldn’t compete on the PGA Tour. I wanted those days to be few and far between. Tiger might be able to compete and win at 75%. He’s a lot better than anyone else.”
Woods admitted he might not be as long as he once was—after the surgery he was lucky to hit an 8-iron 135 yards—but adds that like NBA great Michael Jordan, who became a more strategic player as he aged, the golfer has other elements of his game that he can lean on.
“Just like MJ, I’ve got a fadeaway now,” Woods says. “I’ve had to rely on different parts of my game and strategy and understand how course management skills are improved—where to miss it, how to miss it. And obviously the amount of shots that I’ve learned over the years, not just from my own trial and error but from older players that I’ve talked to, it’s allowed me to be as consistent as I have over the course of my career.”
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