ORLANDO, Fla. – In two weeks, Tiger Woods turns 47, which for most golfers is twilight time. But as we all know, Tiger Woods has never been “most golfers.” And even now, it’s impossible to separate the competitor from the competition.
There are plenty of reasons to consider this version of Tiger a ceremonial player. His rebuilt right leg following the horrific car crash in early 2021 is better.
That’s it, just better, full stop.
“I'm grateful to have this limb and it's mine. It's not some fake limb. It's mine. And, yes, there are some issues with it, but I still have it,” he shrugged Friday at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club.
It’s something of a mixed blessing that on this day, it wasn’t that rebuilt leg that was the problem. The current issue is a painful bout with plantar fasciitis in his right foot, an ailment that kept him from playing the Hero World Challenge earlier this month and has confined him to a golf cart at this week’s PNC Championship.
Full-field tee times from the PNC Championship
“Last year at this time, my leg was broken and I was still playing, but now that's healed up and now I got this plantar thing that's going on. So, pick your poison,” Woods explained.
The golf cart, the ginger walks across greens and tee boxes, the relentless march of time, there are limits to even the most optimistic assessments. Given Woods’ current bill of health, it would be easy to imagine a future for the often-injured forty-something of casual rounds and friendly waves to fans as he basks in the twilight of a World Golf Hall of Fame career.
That would be a mistake.
Earlier this week, Padraig Harrington said the quiet thing out loud: “I'm not saying he ‘could be,’ I actually believe he will be a danger [to win again]. I think he'll win another major,” the Irishman declared. “I genuinely think he will be in contention.”
Woods played just nine competitive rounds this year with the high-water mark coming at the Masters, where he made the cut but struggled physically on the weekend. He echoed a familiar theme two weeks ago in the Bahamas when he said his hope going forward was to play the majors and “maybe one or two others.”
It's not the swing, he’ll tell you, that’s the problem. It’s the walk.
“I can practice. I just can't walk. When you're dealing with the plantar like this, it's one of these things where I need rest, and I haven't exactly been doing that,” he said.
This is where the optimism comes in because this is where the 15-time major champion enters the narrative. The same player who won a U.S. Open on a broken leg and a Masters with a fused back won’t let a “creaky foot” keep him from playing this week.
The motivations are different – with this week’s goal to play alongside his son, Charlie – but it’s the same DNA that drives someone to endure pain and probably ignore the advice of the best medical minds money can buy.
Asked if his participation this week is setting back his recovery Tiger shrugged, “I don't really care about that. I think being there with and alongside my son is far more important, and get to have a chance to have this experience with him is far better than my foot being a little creaky,” he said.
Woods is singularly stubborn with everything he does – winning majors, reinventing the game, rewriting the history of the game – so it’s not a stretch that he would apply the same sensibilities to whatever this next chapter will be.
It won’t be easy. Woods rarely offers a glimpse into how the sausage is made – but it doesn’t take much imagination to understand how grueling the process must be to compete, even at a “challenge season” event in a golf cart.
“I would not even pretend to know what he's going through. But he's told me about some of the pre-round stuff he has to do. He's not really big on letting you in on a lot but he's told me some, and I don't know if I would still be out here trying,” Stewart Cink said. “He's just got a fascinating drive inside him.”
It's that drive that clouds Woods’ future. The soon-to-be-47-year-old has nothing left to prove, no mountains to climb, and yet he still seems so far away from ceremonial status.