Tiger Woods: I'm grateful someone upstairs was taking care of me
Of all the Tiger Woods’ press conferences I’ve covered over the years, and I gave up counting a long time ago, this was the one where he really laid his cards on the table.
There was no talk about winning more majors, far less adding to his remarkable haul of 82 PGA Tour titles, and offering false optimism to his army of fans around the world.
Yes, Woods is back swinging a golf club again following his near-fatal car crash in Los Angeles in February, but this is different to his comebacks from five leg operations and five back surgeries.
He’s literally having to learn to walk again before trying to run. Getting back to being competitive on a golf course is going to take a monumental effort. Even then, Old Father Time may be his biggest hurdle.
“I'm lucky to be alive but also still have the limb,” admitted Woods, speaking ahead of his host duties at this week’s Hero World Challenge at Albany in the Bahamas as he made his first public appearance since that car crash.
“Those are two crucial things. I'm very grateful that someone upstairs was taking care of me, that I'm able to not only be here but also to walk without a prosthesis.”
The 45-year-old, who walked into the media centre with a slight limp, spent three weeks in hospital and three months in total in a hospital bed at home before being able to get back on his feet again with the aid of crutches.
He sent social media into a meltdown after posting a video a week past Sunday of him hitting shots again at home in Florida, but the brakes are on regarding talk about when he might be back playing tournament golf.
“I don't see that type of trend going forward for me,” said Woods of having already pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in sport as he won the 2019 Masters two years after he’d privately confided at the Champions’ Dinner at Augusta National that he feared his career was over due to back issues.
“I won't have the opportunity to practice given the condition of my leg and build up. I just don't. I'll just have a different way of doing it and that's okay and I'm at peace with that, I've made the climb enough times.”
As he took his place alongside Dr Pawan Munjal, chairman & CEO of Hero MotoCorp, the first thing that struck this correspondent about Woods was the size of his shoulders and his bulging biceps.
But, while he’s been able to keep the top half of his body in shape, his right leg in particular will never be the same again. Hence why he’s making no rash predictions about what the future will hold.
“As far as playing at the Tour level, I don't know when that's going to happen,” said Woods. “To see some of my shots fall out of the sky a lot shorter than they used to is a little eye-opening, but at least I'm able to do it again.
“That's something that for a while there it didn't look like I was going to. Now I'm able to participate in the sport of golf. To what level, I do not know that. I'll keep all of you abreast as progress continues to go on, whether I'll be out here and at what level and when.”
How determined is he to win again? “Well, I've got to be good enough to do it, okay?” he added. “So I've got to prove to myself in practice that I'm good enough.
“I'll chip and putt any of these guys, but the golf courses are longer than just a chip-and-putt course. We're not going to be playing the par-3 course at Augusta to win the Masters, so I got to get a little bit bigger game than that. I've got a long way to go in the rehab process to be able to do something like that.”
In a jocular tone, he even suggested the governing bodies could do something to help him. “If the Tour wants to not have golf courses lengthened, they shorten up that much to make it more difficult, that's fine by me, I have no problem with that,” he said. “If they want to go back to wooden shafts and feathery balls, okay, I'm cool.”
The first responder at the scene of the crash in California said the former world No 1 seemed unaware of how seriously he was injured. Nine months on, Woods was asked what he’d remembered of the accident.
“Yeah, all those answers have been answered in the investigation, so you can read about all that there in the post report,” he replied to that before later revealing that he couldn’t face watching TV coverage of the incident as he lay in his hospital bed.
“I had friends that insulated me from a lot of the things that were said outside,” he said. “I didn't have my phone, I did have access to a TV and I was just watching sports.
“But I refused to turn on the local channels and news and stuff like that, I didn't want to go down that road. I wasn't mentally ready for that road yet.
“A lot of things in my body hurt at that time and whether I was on medication or not, it still hurt. And just trying to imagine me coming off of that stuff, how much it was going to hurt, I didn't want to have my mind go there yet, it wasn't ready.”
When he won the Masters for a fifth time, it was a special moment in Woods’ life as he celebrated behind the 18th green at Augusta with his daughter Sam and son Charlie. As was playing with Charlie for the first time in the PGA Tour’s PNC Championship just under a year ago.
Along with others, they have helped Woods through some “dark times” over the past few months and he is thinking just as much about them as himself as he plots a course going forward.
“Am I going to put my family through it again, am I going to put myself out there again?” he asked. “We had a talk within the family, all of us sat down and said if this leg cooperates and I get to a point where I can play the Tour, is it okay with you guys if I try and do it. The consensus was yes.
“Now, internally, I haven't reached that point. I haven't proven it to myself that I can do it. I can show up here and I can host an event, I can play a par-3 course, I can hit a few shots, I can chip and putt, but we're talking about going out there and playing against the world's best on the most difficult golf courses under the most difficult conditions. I'm so far from that.
“I have a long way to go to get to that point and I haven't decided whether or not I want to get to that point. I've got to get my leg to a point where that decision can be made. And we'll see what happens when I get to that point, but I've got a long way to go with this leg.
“My goal and my motivation for the future, it's short term, it's not long term. It's trying to get my leg good.”
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