Tiger Woods’ big paradigm shiftSpared his life and his limb, he will focus on doing his best in limited starts
November 30, 2021
By Cameron Morfit , PGATOUR.COM
Tiger Woods' full news conference before Hero
NASSAU, Bahamas – The carpeted staging in the Hero World Challenge media tent has a table and three microphones, three black chairs, and a red motorcycle. It’s about a foot off the ground.
Tiger Woods stepped off it without pause or concern Tuesday, landing on his right leg.
Still, he’s not getting overconfident.
“I don’t foresee this leg ever being what it used to be,” he said as he sat next to Hero MotoCorp Chairman and CEO Pawan Munjal and answered reporters’ questions for about 35 minutes.
It was the first press conference for Woods since his harrowing single-car accident in L.A. on Feb. 23. Surgeons inserted a rod into his right tibia, which had multiple fractures, and screws and pins into his right foot and ankle. Amputation, he said Tuesday, was a distinct possibility in the early stages. He wore a cast, then a boot, then a sleeve.
He spent three weeks in the hospital, then three months in a hospital bed at home in South Florida.
“It’s hard to explain how difficult that’s been, being immobile for three months,” he said, and especially so for a guy who was so used to spending a good deal of time outside.
“I’m lucky to be alive but also to still have the limb,” he added. “Those are two crucial things.”
A big moment, he added, was when he could first go outside and feel the sun on his face.
The days of him playing a fulltime schedule are over, he said. Assuming the leg continues to get better, he added, he hopes to make limited competitive starts, like Ben Hogan after his own near-fatal car accident. Grateful for what he’s been spared, and what he can still do, Woods, who dressed in black slacks and a black camo shirt, sounded at peace with this career paradigm shift.
The rub: He can still contend and maybe even win despite getting only limited starts.
“I know the recipe for it,” he said. “I’ve just got to get comfortable doing it.”
To be sure, comebacks have defined his career.
When Woods won the 2018 TOUR Championship, he broke a five-year win drought. When he won the 2019 Masters Tournament, after four operations on his back, including a career-threatening fusion surgery, it was his first major in over a decade. When he won the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP in Japan later that year it was after making bogeys on his first three holes.
Then he went 3-0-0 as playing captain of the victorious U.S. Presidents Cup Team. Defying expectations is what he does, but that magical late-career stretch took a toll in 2020.
Perhaps understandably, Woods looked tired. He hit three balls in the water and made a 10, the highest score of his career, at the par-3 12th hole at the (November) 2020 Masters. He and Charlie stole the show at the (father-son) PNC Championship in Orlando almost exactly a year ago, but it turned out his back was hurting again, necessitating a fifth surgery, a microdiscectomy to remove a disc fragment that gave him nerve pain. He hosted but did not play The Genesis Invitational.
Then came the accident.
Hogan came back from a head-on with a bus. Woods won the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines with stress fractures and a torn ACL in his left knee. But now? Even he can’t say for sure. He had the big talk with his family, asking for their blessing in this next comeback, if the right leg behaves. They gave the green light.
Tiger Woods discuses his role within the PGA TOUR before Hero
“Maybe one day it’ll be good enough where I can get out here and compete against these guys,” Woods said of his right leg.
Nine days ago, he posted a three-second video of himself hitting balls on the range, and that brief glimpse of his swing – the perfect tempo, crisp contact, bacon-strip divot – sent fans into a tizzy. But what of his speed? It wasn’t there in his lackluster 2020, and after the accident it will be even harder to get it back. He admits the right leg tires easily and doesn’t hit the ball as far. He jokes about needing to play from the forward tees. He’ll turn 46 next month.
Could he play in the 150th edition of The Open Championship at St. Andrews next July? He allowed that he certainly wants to. He’s a two-time Open champion there, and loves the course.
“Physically, hopefully I can,” he said. “I've got to get there first.”
No matter what, he can still host the Hero, where Collin Morikawa could take over world No. 1 with another win. He can host the Genesis, text members of the U.S. Ryder Cup Team, attend his kids’ sports events – soccer games for daughter Sam, tournaments for son Charlie. And to be sure, his accomplishments will forever stand alone, just as they are.
Five Masters, four PGA Championships, three U.S. Opens, three Open Championships, 15 major titles in all, three behind Jack Nicklaus. Two PLAYERS Championships, two FedExCups, 106 worldwide wins. Six USGA national championships before turning pro, two Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year awards, three AP Male Athlete of the Year awards.
It will be 25 years next April since his ’97 Masters win. The Tiger Slam in 2001 made him the first to hold all four men’s professional majors at the same time. Gary Koch’s “Better than most” call as Woods won his first PLAYERS will live forever. And we’ll never forget Woods sobbing on Steve Williams’ shoulder after winning the 2006 Open; dodging fans in the 18th fairway at the 2018 TOUR Championship at East Lake; hugging Charlie after his 2019 Masters win.
Will there be more? Woods, who admitted to feeling pain in his legs and back as he answered questions, sounded fine, either way. There are eight new players in the field for this year’s Hero, and he said he’s looking forward to seeing how they do. He’s happy to be back amongst friends like Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth this week.
“I miss the jabbing, the needling, catching up with the guys,” he said. “There’s only so much you can do on text.” In other words, he’ll be mixing it up with the best in the world one way or another.
That, jarring as it may seem, is the paradigm shift. Tiger has made it. Can we?