Tiger Woods was optimistic about playing some limited professional golf in the future while also being realistic about the struggles ahead, given the perspective he gleaned from the serious auto accident he endured in February.
“I’m lucky to be alive and also have a limb,” Woods said Tuesday in the Bahamas, where he conducted his first news conference since the Feb. 23 crash in Southern California.
Woods was at Albany Golf Club, site of this week’s Hero World Challenge, an event he hosts for his foundation.
He did not answer any specific questions about the accident, in which he traversed a winding road on his way to Rolling Hills Country Club early in the morning for an endorsement obligation. He referenced the 22-page police report which was issued in early April.
Woods was in the hospital for three weeks following the accident and in a hospital-like bed after that for three months. He suffered significant injuries to his right leg and foot and said it was “50-50” as to whether or not part of his leg might be amputated.
“This one’s been much more difficult,” Woods said, referencing the various injury comebacks in his career. “The knee stuff was one thing. That’s one level. Then the back. With this right leg. … it’s hard to explain how difficult it is. Being immobile for three months. Just to lay there. I was just looking forward to getting outside. That was a goal of mine. Especially for a person who lived his entire life outside, that was a goal.
“I transitioned from a wheelchair to crutches and now nothing. It’s been a lot of hard work.”
But he also admitted that “there’s a long way to go.”
“As far as playing at the tour level, I don’t know when that’s going to happen,” he said. “Now, I’ll play a round here or there, a little hit and giggle, I can do something like that. The USGA suggested Play It Forward (the tees). I really like that idea now. I don’t like the tees on the back. I like Play It Forward. Come on, let’s move it up, let’s move it up.
“To see some of my shots fall out of the sky a lot shorter than they used to is a little eye opening, but at least I’m able to do it again. That’s something that for a while there it didn’t look like I was going to.”
Woods was vague about when he was able to begin walking again and how much golf he has played but acknowledged he has played “some holes” and posted a video on Nov. 21 in which he hit a shot from a driving range with the caption “Making Progress.”
He also noted that his comeback from spinal fusion surgery in 2017 to win the 2018 Tour Championship, the 2019 Masters and his 82nd victory at the 2019 Zozo Championship makes it easier to accept his fate now.
“I got that last major and I ticked off two more events along the way,” he said. “I don’t foresee this leg ever being what it used to be, hence I’ll never have the back what it used to be, and clock’s ticking. I’m getting older, I’m not getting any younger. All that combined means a full schedule and a full practice schedule and the recovery that would take to do that … no I don’t have any desire to do that.
“But to ramp it up for a few events a year and as I alluded to Mr. (Ben) Hogan did, and he did a pretty good job of it, and there’s no reason that I can’t do that and feel ready. I may not be tournament-sharp in a sense that I haven’t played tournaments, but I think if you practice correctly and you do it correctly, that I’ve come off surgeries before. So I know the recipe for it, I’ve just got to get to a point where I feel comfortable enough where I can do that again.”
Hogan, who won 64 PGA Tour events and nine major championships, was involved in his own serious auto accident in 1949, when he and his wife, Valerie, where driving to Texas from a tournament in Phoenix. They were hit by a Greyhound bus and he suffered significant injuries, including to his legs.
Following the accident, Hogan never played more than nine tournaments in a year, the most coming in 1950. In 1951, he played just four times, winning twice – the Masters and U.S. Open. In 1953, he played just six times, winning five, including all three major championships he played.
But Hogan was younger than Woods, who turns 46 on Dec. 30.
“I have a long way in the rehab process of this leg and it’s not the fun stuff of the rehab,” Woods said. “It’s just reps and breaking up scar tissue and things that really hurt. So that part of it’s not going to be fun, but the challenge of it is. I enjoy the challenge of getting in there and trying to push it to the next level, sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back, but you’ve got to go through it. I enjoy that part of it and maybe one day it will be good enough where I can get out here and I can compete against these best players in the world again.”
According to the police report issued by the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Office, Woods was “driving at a speed unsafe for the road conditions and the inability to negotiate the curve of the roadway. According to the report, he was traveling at more than 82 mph in a 45-mile-per-house zone, and it was unclear whether Woods attempted to negotiate the curve.
Instead of staying in his lane as the road curved to the right, Woods went straight into a median, struck a curb, knocked down a wooden sign, and drove into the opposite lanes before hitting a tree and rolling over in the vehicle.
As he sat in the interview room at Albany, Woods acknowledged that he was experiencing pain in his back and his leg. That is part of what he needs to overcome, he said.
While non-committal to any schedule or a return, Woods was asked specifically about The Open at St. Andrews in July, a place where he has won twice.
“I would love to be able to play that Open Championship, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “Physically, I hope I can. I’ve got to get there first. Tournament’s not going to go anywhere, but I need to get there.”
When asked about his looming 46th birthday, Woods joked it would mean that in four more years “I’m in a cart,” referencing the PGA Tour Champions at age 50.
“This year’s been a year I would like to turn the page on,” he said.