NASSAU, Bahamas – Tiger Woods painted a bleak picture Tuesday on when he can return to golf or even get back to doing anything more than just walking.
Woods had two back surgeries in a span of 18 months followed by what he described only as another “procedure” in the same area in October. He has not started rehabilitation and does not know when his back will allow for that.
“The hardest part for me is there’s really nothing I can look forward to, nothing I can build toward,” Woods said. “It’s just taking it literally just day by day and week by week and time by time.”
Woods is at the Hero World Challenge as the tournament host, not one of the 18 players at Albany Golf Club. The only time he touched a club was to pose for a photo, and he leaned on it while talking to Justin Rose and Zach Johnson on the putting green.
A month away from turning 40, the smile did not come as easily for Woods.
He has not competed since Aug. 23 at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he attracted record crowds in his first appearance and played his best golf of a bad year. He went into the final round two shots behind and tied for 10th.
He didn’t realize that would be his last event of the year, and last tournament for longer than he knows.
“Was it a surprise? Yeah,” Woods said. “Because as I was alluding to that week and subsequent weeks, I felt my hip was killing me and I didn’t think it was coming from my back. We worked out in the trailer each and every day and just tried to loosen up my hip. And OK, fine, we went out and played. But I didn’t feel any back discomfort.
“Come to find out it wasn’t my hip, it was coming from my back.”
He had another microdiscectomy Sept. 16 and then he revealed he had another “procedure” Oct. 30, which he said was in the same spot. Asked the degree to which he can function, Woods said, “I walk. I walk and I walk some more.”
Woods, who has spent 683 weeks at No. 1 in the world ranking, is now at No. 400, his lowest as a professional. He has not won since the Bridgestone Invitational in 2013, when he was the PGA Tour player of the year.
And now he can’t even begin to imagine when he might play again.
“I have no answer for that, and neither does my surgeon or my physios,” he said. “There is no timetable.”
Woods said this was different from his four knee surgeries, even the worst one in 2008 after he won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines for his 14th major. He had a reconstruction of his left knee and was told it would be about nine months before he could get back. Woods returned eight months later and won in his third start.
“For nerves, there are really no timetables and therein lies the tricky part of it because you can come back earlier or you can come back later. It just depends on how the nerve heals and how it settles,” he said.
Would he be surprised if he was nothing more than a host at the Hero World Challenge a year from now? He couldn’t answer it.
“So where is the light at the end of the tunnel? I don’t know, so that’s been hard,” Woods said. “I had to reset the clock each and every day and OK, here we go. This is a new day and this is taken for what it is. I listen to my surgeon. I listen to my physios and we just take it day by day. Hopefully, the day-by-day adds up to something positive here soon.”
He agreed to be a vice captain under Davis Love III at the Ryder Cup next year, though Woods still wants to play in the matches. He says it has been two months since he hit a golf ball – “a chip shot left handed” – and that he passes most his time playing video games.
Woods said he wants to play again and that anything he accomplishes the rest of his career “will be gravy.”
But he sounded at peace with what he already has done – 79 career victories on the PGA Tour (second only to the 82 by Sam Snead), 14 majors (second to 18 by Jack Nicklaus), PGA Tour player of the year a record 11 times.
“I’ve had a pretty good career for my 20s and 30s,” he said. “For my 20 years out here, I think I’ve achieved a lot, and if that’s all it entails, then I’ve had a pretty good run. But I’m hoping that’s not it. I’m hoping that I can get back out here and compete against these guys. I really do miss it.”
The first step? Getting healthy enough to play soccer with his two children.
“If I can get to that, then we can start talking about golf,” he said. “But let me get to where I can pass the time and really be a part of my kids’ life in the way that I want to be part of it physically, not just as a cheerleader.”