Tiger is back. And I don’t say this lightly, nor do I make this statement without sincere consideration, but all the evidence is pointing there: Tiger is back. After suffering a car accident in February that was almost fatal and left doctors questioning whether the legendary golfer would ever walk again, Woods has announced that he’ll be playing in the PNC Championship December 18-19 with his 12-year-old son Charlie. And I’m not talking about Tiger being back for a father-son tournament. I’m talking about him being back in the running for the big ones — or at least, being on his way there.
Not only is he able to walk, he’s able to swing a golf club, and despite his protests that he’s not the player he once was, this taste of competition is going to bring Tiger Woods back to competitive golf. Because, to be frank, no one in golf right now is the player that he once was. While it has to be killing him that he’s reached his peak and is no longer able to play like he was two decades ago, he’s also Tiger Woods. That drive, that competitive obsession, that complete and total preoccupation with being the best doesn’t just up and leave one day. It’s what made him great, and it’s what will bring him back against all odds. Once he’s back out on the course, I think it’s going to be near impossible for him to come back off.
He can call it a “hit and giggle event” all he wants, but there is no giggling for Tiger when he’s on the green, no truly carefree play. I highly doubt there’s even a retirement plan for Tiger until he has literally no further options — and while it seemed like the car accident may have been that limit, we should have known better. It’s Tiger. The limit may not even exist.
While he won’t be playing the full tour again — not only because of his leg, but because of his multiple back surgeries that he’s had to recover from, as well as his struggles with addiction and, honestly, his age — he said in an interview with Golf Digest that he hopes to mimic Ben Hogan’s decision to “pick and choose a few events a year” to play in. Hogan also survived a near-fatal crash, as well, a head-on collision with a bus in 1949 that left him with multiple fractures that the doctors feared would result in paralysis. It did not. Hogan went on to win the U.S. Open the following year.
It was a different time, to be sure, and Hogan didn’t have Tiger’s medical history — Woods referred to returning to play after his back fusion surgery as “climbing Mount Everest” — but it’s possible. And Tiger, 45, wants it more than anybody, as anyone who watched this year’s HBO documentary could tell. And if he wants it, he will find a way. I have every confidence that he’s going to return to the majors within the next two years, whether or not he’s able to tally another win. He’s patiently rehabbing, acknowledging in the Golf Digest interview that he still has a lot of muscle and nerve development ahead of him, but it is ahead of him. He will develop. It’s Tiger Woods, for God’s sake.
Despite his missteps — and there have been many — golf just isn’t the same without him; once you’ve watched him, no one wants to go back to the pre-Tiger years. Neither does he. He will climb Mount Everest again, and I’m also looking forward to seeing how Charlie Woods enters the scene in a few years. Perhaps that will be the retirement turning point, when his son steps up to the metaphorical plate. Until then, we’d be fools to underestimate him. Could anyone else in the sport do it, come back as many times from the physical injuries, public scandals, and emotional distress as he has? I have yet to see someone who can. The impossible becomes possible time and time again with him. He and Charlie will play 36 holes together in Orlando next weekend.