Just give me time to see what this body can and can’t do, says Tiger Woods
Former world No1 returns in Hero World Challenge after spinal-fusion surgery. ‘Every time I bent over I had pain down my leg and my foot didn’t work” .
As Tiger Woods prepares for a competitive comeback that will be the most eagerly anticipated round of this golfing year, he has painted a stark – plus uncharacteristically detailed – picture of his recent traumas.
The 14-times major champion’s fourth surgery, a back fusion, has cured what Woods described on Tuesday as crippling pain. Nonetheless, and sensibly given the context, the 41-year-old has called for patience as a watching world wonders whether he can even partly replicate past glories. With his charity foundation a key beneficiary, Woods will play in the Hero World Challenge from Thursday. It will be his first competition appearance since early February and that lasted only 18 holes as injury took hold.
“I have been struggling for years,” Woods admitted. “In my darkest period there were times when I couldn’t even get out of bed. I don’t know if ‘retirement’ is the word but I wondered if I would ever play golf with my friends again. I couldn’t even go out for dinner, I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t get from point A to point B in the house.
“I know everyone was on me about the chipping difficulties I had. They didn’t realise every time I bent over I had pain going down my leg and my foot didn’t work. My hands started shaking. Those were all nerve issues I had going on at that time and it hurt. Now I can start chipping and putting out here, I can hit 400 putts in a training session. Those are things I wasn’t able to do for a very long time.”
When pressed as to why he did not open up regarding such problems at the time, Woods raised a rueful smile. “Because most people wouldn’t understand it. The people who have bad backs, they totally understand. But the majority of the public, the media, you wouldn’t understand it unless you have lived it.”
This personable, open Woods has become a recurring theme. He was self-deprecating here with the admission that his two children know him only as a “YouTube golfer”. Can he become that man again? “I don’t know … he was pretty good.”
And yet the formidable mental approach that set Woods apart from so many has not vanished. He insisted he has not looked once at police video footage that circulated in the immediate aftermath of an arrest for driving under the influence. “I always thought that I was tough mentally,” he said. “My dad always thought so as well. Going through all this just reaffirmed that. I’ve come out the other side and I feel fantastic.”
On the specifics of that charge, which Woods addressed here for the first time, he insisted he was “trying to go away from the pain and trying to sleep”, hence the concoction of medicine that triggered embarrassing roadside scenes. Woods said: “Now that I’m feeling the way I’m feeling, it’s just hard to imagine I was living the way I was living with my foot not working, my leg not working and then the hours of not being able to sleep at all because of the pain.”
His winnings from victories in casual matches against players such as Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas in the past month have, Woods insisted, allowed him to purchase multiple dinners. That group, in turn, have been effusive about the state of the Woods game. The man himself urges caution.
“I would like to say I’m here to win the damn thing like I always did but this is so different,” Woods added. “I don’t know my body yet. I don’t know what I can and can’t do. I feel like I can hit every shot I want but still need to be in position at a tournament setting. My back is fused now, this is all new. I certainly have the mind to do it and the hands to do it. It’s a case of having the body to do it and that will take time.
“There’s no one out there I could turn to to ask what it’s like when you’re going at it as hard as I am. What does it feel like? What are the limitations? There is no one because the average age for this fusion is 58 years old.
“More than anything I am still learning my body, so just give me some time to understand what this body can and can’t do. I know there will be some limitations somewhere, I just don’t know what they will be yet. I haven’t had the adrenaline coursing through my system and the speed I normally swing at with adrenaline in my system.
“I’m just trying to get through Thursday and then I’ll try and get through this tournament. It’s that simple because I haven’t played.”
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