HE’s back. Smiling a lot and cracking jokes, too. We’ll see how long that lasts but, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not really important.
What matters is his fitness and, according to Tiger Woods, he’s good to go. He’s not returning ahead of schedule following back surgery against medical advice.
Woods – along with his team of physios and trainers – has followed every bit of advice he’s been offered by the experts since undergoing surgery for a pinched nerve on 31 March.
From putting to chipping, hitting short irons to drivers, he has gradually been cranking things up at his plush pad in Jupiter Island, Florida, over the past few weeks.
While it was feared he might not even play again this season, he himself always had next month’s Open Championship at Royal Liverpool in his sights for the big return.
The fact it has come earlier – in this week’s Quicken Loans National at Congressional – is mainly down to the fact it’s the event on the PGA Tour that benefits his foundation.
He insists he’s ready, though, and, albeit briefly, a few eyes might even gaze away from the excitement of the World Cup tomorrow to see if that is, in fact, the case.
“It’s been an interesting road – a quite tedious little process,” said Woods of a recovery period in which he sat out both The Masters and US Open. “But I’ve got to the point where I feel I can play competitive golf again and it is pretty exciting. I have great trainers, great physios. We have done all the protocols, week after week, always on calls seeing what the next step would be.
We had a gameplan over how we were going to do things, and we did it. I have been able to go out there, hit balls, hit drivers and do what I want to do.
“Anyone who has had this procedure done, you can putt the next day. You hop right out of the recovery room and literally you are ok to putt. But you are not allowed to bend over so I wasn’t allowed to pick the balls out of the holes. So I had a little creative idea. We had normal size holes in my backyard and sand-filled them. I would know if the putts went in or not but didn’t have to bend down to pick the balls up. We did that for a couple of months.
“Then it was chipping and pitching. Then we added ten yards every day to two days, depending on how I felt and depending how much inflammation was in the area.
“My physios and surgeon were in lock-step all the way. Some days it was ‘stay here for a couple of days’ and others it was ‘you can progress’. I was out there hitting drivers a couple of weeks ago, then I could play golf.
“I wanted to knock off a little rust on the range before I went out there and tried not to embarrass myself on the golf course. I managed to do that, got some holes in.
“Anyone who has had this procedure knows that the worst thing you can do is sit, so it wasn’t comfortable sitting in the golf cart sometimes. Sometimes I would ride in the back of the cart like Freddie Couples does sometimes, standing up. I was able to get in more holes because of that.”
Asked what he’d shot on his return, Woods smiled as he replied: “I broke 50 for nine the first time…just like I did when I was three. So I am sneaking up on it. My prime is coming up…”
It had been suggested that Woods would have to make serious swing changes with his coach, Sean Foley, to counteract the surgery and ensure the same problem didn’t resurface.
“We made a few tweaks here and there but nothing major – nothing that you could probably observe with the physical eye,” reported Woods. “I may not go at it as hard on all shots. I was out there pumping 8-irons 130 yards for a while and that was tough. But now I have my numbers back.”
His hunger for winning majors has never diminished, even though it’s more than six years now since he won the last of his 14 wins in those events. Barring an unexpected setback this week, he will resume his bid to topple 18-times major winner Jack Nicklaus as the game’s greatest player on Merseyside in three weeks’ time.
“It was very similar because I knew at that moment in time that I could not compete at this level, so it didn’t really bother me,” said Woods in reply to being asked to compare this lay-off to one in 2011, when he also missed two majors.
“As I got a little bit closer to feeling where I could compete then I was getting the itch to compete at this level. But I knew I had my own progression to go through first. Once I got to the position where I was playing golf, knocking off rust, shaping shots, things started coming back quickly. Low and behold here we are.”