TOUR Insider: Woods taking day-by-day approach with latest comeback
June 25, 2014
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
- The Quicken Loans National has been held five times at Congressional -- and Tiger Woods won two of them. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
When Tiger Woods enters a tournament, he expects to win.
It doesn’t matter if he has a broken leg, or if he is coming off a dozen weeks on the shelf from a surgically repaired back.
“Expectations don’t change,” Woods said Tuesday from Congressional Country Club, site of this week’s Quicken Loans National and where he will play for the first time since going under the knife for a microdiscectomy March 31 in Utah. “That’s the ultimate goal. It’s just that it’s going to be a little bit harder this time.”
Actually a lot harder, and that should temper the expectations -- from him and from the rest of us.
He hasn’t played competitively since March 9.
He hasn’t had his normal amount of preparation for a tournament.
He has even admitted to being rusty and that he plans to play his way into competitive shape.
“If this wasn't the foundation and our impact that we can have with kids, I probably would not (be playing),” Woods said of the Quicken Loans National, which is also in its first year with a new title sponsor. “Our goal was the British Open.”
But Woods healed faster than expected, and voila, here he is.
So where exactly should the expectations be? Just being competitive going into Sunday wouldn’t be a bad place to start, because this time winning isn’t the only thing, it literally is how Woods plays the game.
Even before having surgery he was off to the worst start of any season in his career, missing the 54-hole cut at the Farmers Insurance Open, withdrawing from the final round of The Honda Classic with five holes to play and the following week posting the highest final-round score (78) in his decade-and-a-half on the PGA TOUR.
He also finished a pedestrian 41st in Dubai, in case you forgot about that.
Surely the back was a factor in his performance, and a dozen weeks off could be, too.
“I felt a little bit slow starting out this year,” said Justin Rose, who missed a month at the beginning of 2014 while recovering from shoulder tendinitis. “It probably did take me a few weeks to get going and I felt like I really only sort of found my stride post-Augusta, PLAYERS Championship onwards, if I'm honest.
“I always feel like there's a slight lag effect: You can have your game on the range but it might take a week or two weeks or having a scorecard in your hand for five or six rounds. That's the case for all of us, if we're making, say, swing change or we just haven't played a lot of golf.”
Woods certainly fits that bill.
He called this latest injury “no joke” and golf history is littered with guys whose careers took a turn for the worse once the back was out of whack.
Sure, he has won the Quicken Loans National twice, and he says he is pain-free for the first time in two years. Also, nothing motivates him more than proving naysayers wrong.
But as swing coach Sean Foley says, his approach with Woods’ swing will be “day-by-day.”
“There's really not a whole lot of math to it,” Foley said. “It's just seeing how he feels, warming up and playing the course."
And playing down the expectations.
This isn’t the Woods of the late 1990s and early 2000s. He’s older and has a lot of miles on his body. But he is also wiser, choosing to take the long view when his ego tires to write checks his body can’t cash.
The good news for Woods is that his body actually is ”good enough” to play and that he can even give it a go in the first place, even if it's not quite at full speed.
“It always depends on obviously the person's healing capabilities as well as the physios that they are involved in as well as the surgeons,” Woods said. “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. I've been able to play and hit balls and hit drivers and go out there and do whatever I wanted to do.”
Now let’s see what he can do, and give him the time to do it.
“I think with that old adage, with age comes wisdom,” Woods, 38, said. “And I have certainly become much more patient.”
He should be. So should we.
Tiger Woods on his recovery from back surgery before Quicken Loans