Martin Dempster: Hero World Challenge blow is reminder of Tiger Woods' wear and tear
For the third time, having first been here in 2019 then again last year, it’s a huge privilege to be part of a media group that has been invited to attend the Hero World Challenge taking place in the Bahamas.
The PGA Tour-sanctioned event, of course, is hosted by Tiger Woods in aid of his TGR Foundation, but the week hasn’t started how the 15-time major winner had envisaged.
Woods had been due to make his first competitive outing since The 150th Open at St Andrews in July, but that exciting prospect is no longer on the cards.
“In my preparation and practice for this week’s Hero World Challenge, I’ve developed plantar fasciitis in my right foot, which is making it difficult to walk,” he revealed in a post on social media in the middle of Monday afternoon.
“After consulting with my doctors and trainers, I have decided to withdraw this week and focus on my hosting duties. My plan is still to compete in The Match and PNC Championship.”
Disappointingly, it means he’s back in the same position he was 12 months ago, when he used the tournament at Albany Golf Course to conduct his first press conference since suffering serious leg injuries in a car crash in Los Angeles early in 2021.
I remember sitting in the media centre that day and was instantly struck by his physique. He was like Popeye, having clearly been doing lots of upper body exercises as he waited patiently to literally get back on his feet.
That week came too soon for Woods to play himself in the 2021 edition, but he used it to hit balls a couple of times on the range before then teaming up with his son, Charlie, in the PNC Championship a couple of weeks later.
At that time, he wasn’t exactly sure what the 2022 campaign had in store for him, but the one event Woods had in his sights was the 150th Open at St Andrews, where two of his three Claret Jug successes had been landed. “It’s my favourite golf course in the world,” he declared with a huge smile that told you exactly what being there for the milestone event would mean to him.
It was no real surprise, of course, that before it came around, he’d already played in The Masters. After then struggling in the PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa, he sat out the US Open, which was held at The Country Club at Brookline, but he did, indeed, make it to St Andrews and what a boost that was for the tournament, even though it would have been sold out without him.
In the build up, Woods held what was easily his best-ever press conference at The R&A’s showpiece event as he not only shares some of his memories about St Andrews in particular but also opened up on some of the things that had been happening in the game, including the arrival of LIV Golf.
In short, he’s not a fan of the breakaway circuit and that, of course, is one of the main reasons why players like Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Tony Finau, Jordan Spieth and others feel exactly the same and, by the looks of things, always will. His influence is huge and rightly so.
It wasn’t the week Woods was looking for in Fife as he missed the cut, leading to one of the most emotional walks up the 18th hole on the Old Course on the Friday ever witnessed and maybe even more so than when Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson said their respective farewells on that particular stage at the same venue.
Woods admitted at the time he wasn’t sure what the future held for him, either in respect of the rest of the season or The Open and only time will tell as far as the latter is concerned, with next year’s edition being held at Royal Liverpool, where he recorded that other triumph in 2006.
As for this year, he’s not played competitively since St Andrews and that tells us that he is, indeed, now having to be careful about not expecting too much from himself after seeing his whole body take a bit of a hammering over the past 15 years or so.
Given the tremendous support he’s received from Hero MotoCorp - this is the company’s eighth consecutive year of being associated with the World Challenge - it was no surprise that he’d chosen this week to tee it up again in public, but that’s now been scuppered.
Having to delay his return is a timely reminder that Woods, who had ruled out applying to use a buggy in the Bahamas before suffering his injury, isn’t Superman and has suffered lots of wear and tear.
As he said in that short announcement, the 46-year-old is still hoping to join forces again with Charlie in next month’s PNC Championship in Florida, where the pair will be aiming to go one better than 12 months ago, and, in between, has The Match, a special TV event, along with McIlroy, Thomas and Spieth.
One of the few occasions this week when I won’t be able to catch a glimpse of those turquoise blue waters is when Woods, as will still be the case, sits down with us on Tuesday morning for his pre-tournament press conference, but that will be worth it.
Even more than earlier in my career, I feel genuinely excited to be part of a group grilling him because nowadays he seems more willing to engage more and share his thoughts and that’s terrific.
Yip, it’s definitely a pleasure to be part of this week in a media capacity and, believe me, I will forever be grateful for the exciting opportunities and amazing places I’ve been lucky to visit through covering this great game.
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