Tiger Woods staying patient with his return to golfFriday’s pro-am round was an opportunity for Woods to return to some level of normalcy
December 17, 2021
By Jeff Babineau , PGATOUR.COM
- December 17, 2021
Team Woods Highlights from the 2021 PNC Championship pro-am
ORLANDO, Fla. – Yes, Tiger Woods currently has limitations in his post-crash golf game, but here’s the twist: Ten months after he rolled an SUV down an embankment in Los Angeles and sustained devastating leg injuries that required multiple surgeries, he is fine with where he is. Patient, even.
For Woods, who alongside Jack Nicklaus is the best to ever play this game, Friday’s return to golf at the PNC Championship pro-am at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club had a singular purpose, which was to join his 12-year-old son, Charlie, take a few swings, work on the short game a bit (he exhibited nice touch around the greens), and simply have fun. It had been a long, tough year.
“It was an awesome day,” Woods said after his round was done. It marked his first round in an event since he played with Charlie in last year’s PNC. “It was just awesome to be back out here playing and being out there with my son, and we just had an absolute blast.”
Friday’s pro-am round was an opportunity for Woods to return to some level of normalcy, climbing back inside the ropes to play a game he has known for about 44 of his almost 46 years. (Woods turns 46 Dec. 30.)
He warmed up just a few spots down from Lee Trevino and Vijay Singh. Bubba Watson stopped by and gave him a hug. (“Good to see you,” Woods told him.) There were familiar scenes. He wrapped white tape around his finger, and there were no shortage of mini-reunions, with people inside golf’s moving circus genuinely glad to see him back. Woods said he felt nerves standing on the first tee (he didn’t hit a great tee shot), but soon he and Charlie each stuffed nice short iron shots into the green at the par-4 opener. When Tiger rolled in the 18-foot birdie putt, a 60-ish father turned to his grown son along the ropes and said, “Expect anything less?”
Tiger Woods’ first tee shot at PNC Championship pro-am
Woods has been the rare athlete who shoulders massive expectations and exceeds them. This go-around, as he readies to turn 46, we should expect less. That is just part of the new deal. Woods moved gingerly during points of his round, and after a few holes of his second nine, he appeared to be gassed. He said this was probably only his second or third round back after his Feb. 23 crash. As he builds himself back, he acknowledges his endurance is lacking. The last full swing he took in the scramble format was a 3-wood at the par-5 14th hole. He only chipped and putted. But physically, he passed his first test.
“It's going to be awhile,” Woods said. “I couldn't walk this golf course even right now, and it's flat. I don't have the endurance. My leg is not quite right yet and it's going to take time. I told you in the Bahamas (at the Hero World Challenge), I'm a long way from playing tournament golf. This is hit, hop in a cart and move about my business just like I would at Medalist (his home club).
“Being able to play tournament golf and being able to recover, practice and train and hit balls after a round and do all of the things that I need to be at a high level, I'm a long way away from that.”
All well and good. Here’s the point: Golf can, and will, wait for him. On Friday, it simply was time to exhale and look to the skies and be thankful Tiger Woods (a) is alive and (b) is back playing golf once again. Saturday, Tiger and Charlie will join Justin and Mike Thomas in the PNC’s opening round, teeing off at 12:18 p.m. Tiger said Friday Justin is like the big brother that Charlie never had. For Justin, Tiger has been the big brother that he never had. It’s a terrific dynamic. Friday, a limited crowd at Ritz-Carlton (an estimated 3,000 spectators) got to join in. Young and old delighted in Woods’ return, even if he didn’t hit all the shots. Given how far he had to come and how hard he had fought to get here, being back meant something.
“Being able to be in position to compete this week is remarkable,” said NBC’s Notah Begay, Woods’ former Stanford teammate and longtime resident in his inner circle. “He’s moving well, he feels good. There’s no endurance. It’s almost as if he’s on a pitch count. He’s got only so many full swings in him each day, and he knows that.
“But it’s good for him to be in a place where he’s OK with that. I know that’s come from a lot of maturity and coming to terms with the reality of an accident that could have been catastrophic, and being in a good place with it. I think he has really matured through this whole thing, and you see it out there. He’s really having a great time.”
Former PGA TOUR Champions winner Jim Thorpe, 72, was in the crowd on Friday, as well. When he is home, he’ll flip on old golf highlights on the television. When his young granddaughter and grandson see Woods on the screen, they react differently.
“I’m so happy to see him back,” Thorpe said. “I think a lot of us who played the game understand that he will never be the old Tiger. ... Being here to play with his son, the reception that he got from the people, golf needs him. Golf wants him back. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of magnificent players out there. But there is only one Tiger.”
Woods, who put a new driver and golf ball in play, bombed a bleeding cut down the par-4 second, and hit a beautiful baby draw off the tee at the par-5 third. He loves to shape his shots. He may not possess his usual speed and pop off the tee, but he was hitting it longer that many expected. When he caught an iron heavily off the tee on the par-3 fourth – his first poor swing, really – he climbed back in his cart, looked over to a television reporter and shrugged. “I haven’t played in a while,” he said, rustling a sandwich out of a bag in his cart.Tiger Woods watches his son Charlie tee off during the PNC Championship pro-am. (Ben Jared/PGA TOUR)
Charlie, at 12, once again was a standout. He has gained length in a year, hit lots of good approach shots, and led his scramble team by putting first and showing the way. He poured in a birdie putt from above the hole at 18, and his father smiled again, bumping fists with him. Tiger said they don’t want their good friends Justin and Mike Thomas to repeat as the winners of the Willie Park belt this year, but the reality is, they are happy to be here. For Team Woods, it’s going to be a memorable weekend.
Even before his SUV crash, Woods had endured 10 surgeries – five on his back, five on his knee – and somehow, he finds a way to climb back and keep punching. This comeback is different from the rest. Woods admits his right leg “was pretty messed up.” But every time he falls, he finds a way to stand back up.
“I think he has alien DNA,” Begay said of his longtime friend. “His ability to repair not only physically, but mentally and emotionally, is second to none. I don’t think we’ve really seen anything like it in sports.”