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As Tiger Woods turns 47, a year unlike any other likely to become the norm

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There have been many iterations of a Tiger Woods comeback, but this year was an aberration from the rest.

In February 2021, while recovering from a fifth back procedure, Woods was involved in a single-car accident, suffering comminuted open fractures to both the tibia and fibula in his right leg. It was uncertain if he'd ever play competitive golf again.

The 15-time major champion remained out of the public eye until December's Hero World Challenge. There, Woods revealed he'd never play a full schedule again; however, when he was seen hitting balls on the range, the anticipation for a Woods return was in full force. Those flames were fueled later that month when Woods finished runner-up at the PNC Championship with his son, Charlie. 

Woods' first public appearance of 2022 came at the Genesis Invitational, nearly one year after the crash. Just days before the accident, Woods appeared sluggish at Riviera. A year later, however, there was a clear disparity. Woods appeared sharper, but expressed that he had a long way to go before playing again. However, he affirmed that if would become when.

"You’ll see me on the PGA Tour [in 2022]," he said Saturday on CBS at Riviera, "I just don’t know when." 

Tiger's present a stark contrast to last year

“You’ll see me on the PGA Tour [in 2022],” Tiger Woods said Saturday on CBS. “I just don’t know when."

The waiting game began, and most people — including Woods — circled the Masters on their calendars — a few weeks after Woods was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. 

Amid a week of speculation, the 82-time Tour winner touched down in Augusta on Sunday before the Masters. He played a practice round and tweeted, it'll be a "game-time decision on whether I compete."

In front of a mammoth gallery, a Monday practice round followed. The next day in his presser, Woods still didn't fully commit to playing, but when asked if he felt he could win, Woods responded without hesitation, "I do."

Thursday came, and the wait was over. Woods teed off at 11:04 a.m. ET and, in vintage Woods fashion, shot 1-under 71 in his first competitive round since the 2020 Masters in November. Like so many times before, he was the talk of the sports world. 

But that would be the peak of his performance in 2022, and what followed was a grim reality. 

He made the cut at Augusta National, but on Saturday, shot a Masters career-worst 78. Walking off to a grand ovation after 72 holes, he finished T-46. But, nonetheless, finishing was a win considering where Woods was 14 months prior — and while still reeling from the aftermath. 

"You can just tell that his leg is just not quite up there yet," Jon Rahm, Woods' final-round playing competitor, said after Sunday's round. 

That Sunday, Woods confirmed he would play the 150th Open at St. Andrews in July. But what about before then? 

The speculation mirrored the Masters'. In late April, Woods played a practice round at Southern Hills, the site of the PGA Championship and the venue of his 2007 PGA win. 

On May 19, Woods teed it up there. He once again made the cut, rallying on the back-nine Friday for a 1-under 69. But after a PGA career-high 79 on Saturday, Woods was tied for last and withdrew, the first time he pulled out of a major as a professional. 

"I think we’re at a point now where winning any tournament, forget a major, winning any tournament will be as hard as winning four majors in a row was once was," Golf Channel’s Rich Lerner said Saturday night on "Live From the PGA Championship." 

Woods skipped the U.S. Open because he didn’t want to jeopardize playing The Open. This year’s Open wasn’t just any Open — it was the 150th edition at St. Andrews, a place “near and dear” to Woods’ heart.  

Woods said it felt like the biggest Open ever played. But despite the festivities, there was an elephant in the room that had fractured the sport like never before, and it couldn’t be ignored. 

It had been less than a month since the Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit launched. Woods, the face of golf, let alone the PGA Tour, previously made clear what side of the aisle he was on, though in the past he’s been vanilla on hot-button topics. But now that LIV had come to fruition, he was inevitably going to be asked about the startup league again, and he left nothing to interpretation.

"I think that what they’ve done is (the LIV defectors) turned their back on what has allowed them to get to this position," Woods said amid a lengthy response.  

On the course, Woods again struggled and missed the cut for the first time in 2022. However, with a good chance this being Woods’ final competitive appearance at the Old Course, arguably the iconic image of the year was Woods crossing the Swilcan Bridge to a rich ovation, removing his cap and holding it aloft to the fans as he was overcome with emotion, something he rarely shows while playing.  

"I've been coming here since 1995," he said afterward, "and I don't know when — I think the next one comes around in what, 2030? And I don't know if I will be physically able to play by then.

"So to me, it felt like this might have been my last British Open here at St Andrews. And the fans, the ovation and the warmth, it was an unbelievable feeling."

Woods’ competitive year on Tour was over, and though he provided many memorable moments in 2022 despite being hampered by injury, he couldn’t overcome the roadblocks to contend. 

Woods, though, made headlines without playing, like when he was part of a players-only meeting in Delaware during the week of the BMW Championship, molding into his new outspoken, mentorship role as he and 22 other Tour stalwarts discussed how to combat LIV. 

After that cameo, everyone pinpointed to seeing Woods in his routine year-end appearances, expecting another update on what his future holds. Woods set out to play the Hero, but the reality of his condition was reinforced when he withdrew with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. 

Woods still sat at the microphone that week and again provided a bevy of headlines, sounding off against LIV and its CEO Greg Norman, saying Norman needs to step down from his position for the two sides to come to a truce. Meanwhile, the update on his rehabilitation process was what most expected, but maybe not what many hoped for. 

Tiger's drive clouds what his future holds

Drive clouds Tiger Woods’ future. The soon-to-be-47-year-old has nothing left to prove, no mountains to climb, yet is still hurting.

He said he can hit the shots he wants, but it’s the walking that gives him problems, and much like his update in 2021, he reiterated his goal is to play "the major championships and maybe one or two more; that’s it," while again confirming the end is near. 

"I don’t have much left in this leg," he said. 

Woods capped off his year playing in The Match and the PNC Championship with Charlie, where Woods struggled on his feet but not as much with his swing. He used a cart, something Woods said he won’t do in a Tour-sanctioned event. 

His competitive drive is still there, and some are bullish that Woods’ glory days aren’t over. 

"I think he'll win another major,” Padraig Harrington said at the PNC. "I genuinely think he will be in contention."

Just like the past two years, the golf world is eager to see what Woods’ future holds. Maybe in his limited appearances, there will be a glimpse of his old self, but with nothing left to prove, expectations shouldn’t be lofty. And though 2022 was the most abnormal year of his career, it was likely a preview of what will become his new normal.