NASSAU, Bahamas – The world has always been more interested in what Tiger Woods does, rather than what he says. It was the major championships, the record-breaking performances and, yes, the high-profile brushes with infamy that have captivated.
It was nice to get his thoughts on tying Sam Snead’s all-time PGA Tour victory total or collecting his 15th Grand Slam title, but the truth is, Tiger has made an art out of using a lot of words and not really saying much. It’s what happens when you spend a lifetime answering questions, particularly questions that don’t have easy answers.
Never has this been truer than on Tuesday at Tiger’s own Hero World Challenge. For the first time since Woods crashed his Genesis SUV, across a median and into a twisted wreck in late February, he walked into an interview room.
He spoke for 40 minutes and covered a wide range of topics – from when he might play on the PGA Tour again to the chilling disclosure that there were “conversations” while he was in the hospital about amputating his injured right leg – but it was the walk that spoke volumes. Well, the walk and the smile.
It was the easy smile he used to flash when times were good and he was relaxed. It spoke to where the soon-to-be 46-year-old is both professionally and personally.
But initially it was the walk.
Anyone who studied the images of Woods’ mangled SUV following his single-vehicle crash or read the comments from his doctors likely envisioned a much different scene of wheelchairs and hospital beds and, if everything went well, crutches.
There was plenty of that.
“This one's been much more difficult,” admitted Woods, who had endured at least 10 different surgeries on his back, legs and knees before February’s crash. “Those operations were one thing, that's one level. Then you add the back, that's another level. And then with this right leg, that was … it's hard to explain how difficult it has been just to be immobile for the three months, just lay there and I was just looking forward to getting outside.”
Woods went on to tell his story of recovery. From the hospital bed his family fashioned for him in his South Florida home, to eventually having someone wheel him outside.
“I could feel the sun. That was like a milestone,” he smiled.
Eventually he graduated to crutches and the simple freedom that those with full mobility take for granted.
“I built a really nice house, but I didn't realize how big it was until you start putting crutches on,” he laughed. “There were times where I had to take breaks, but I tell you there's a point in time where my triceps got pretty jacked, so that was a lot of fun.”
For Tiger, a man who has spent more time recovering from injury than anyone else in the game, this was a different road. It was a road that unlike his countless back issues or his brush with knee injuries didn’t look familiar.
When he underwent spinal fusion surgery in 2017 the recovery was painful, but there was always the notion that he could endure and return to competition at the highest level. It’s clear that this time that’s not necessarily the case.
“I'll put it to you this way, as far as playing at the Tour level, I don't know when that's going to happen,” Woods said. “Now, I'll play a round here or there, a little hit and giggle, I can do something like that.”
Again, he didn’t say much but, in his defense, there’s not much to say at this point. The video that threatened to break the internet two weeks ago of Woods hitting a smooth wedge shot suggested that Tiger was on the comeback trail – again. But at Albany, the message was much different.
Asked when he might be able to return to competition he could offer only, “I’ll keep you abreast.” When he was asked what his schedule might look like, he just shrugged. Perhaps most telling was his answer when he was asked if he was in pain. There was a nod and a short answer, “my back hurts and my leg hurts.”
Only Tiger can pinpoint the moment when he learned his world had changed forever. Woods said he has no memory of the car crash or much of his time in the hospital following multiple surgeries, but he does remember graduating from his wheelchair to crutches. Walking, swinging a club, playing PGA Tour golf was, for much of his recovery, an afterthought.
It’s why the image of Woods walking into a crowded media tent Tuesday with a relaxed smile said so much more than any of the answers he gave.
In a rare moment of clarity, Woods was asked about his upcoming birthday (Dec. 30) and what he might celebrate.
“This year's been a year I would like to turn the page on,” he said. “It's been full of some tough memories and some tough times, but also some great times, too. But, again, it would be nice to turn the page.”
What he said was he’d like to turn the page on 2021, but what the smile and that walk seemed to say was it’s time to turn the page on this part of his career.