For months, people have wondered when Tiger Woods would be healthy enough to return to the PGA TOUR. Some have even suggested his body could be so broken he might not ever tee it up again.
Woods appeared to put an end to that speculation on Wednesday, announcing he hopes to play in the Safeway Open, Oct. 13-16 in Napa, California. The tournament, the 2016-17 PGA TOUR season opener, would mark Woods’ first competitive rounds in 14 months.
‘My rehabilitation is to the point where I’m comfortable making plans, but I still have work to do,’ Tiger said on his website. ‘Whether I can play depends on my continued progress and recovery. My hope is to have my game ready to go.’
He also hopes to play in the Turkish Airlines Open, held Nov. 3-6 in Antalya, Turkey, and the Hero World Challenge, which will be contested in the Bahamas Dec. 1-4. In addition, Woods will serve as an assistant captain for Davis Love III at the Ryder Cup to be played Sept. 30-Oct. 2 at Hazeltine National.
His appearance at the Safeway Open would be his second at that tournament. He played in 2011, tying for 30th.
‘It could be a fun fall,’ Woods said in his statement. ‘It was difficult missing tournaments that are important to me, but this time I was smart about my recovery and didn’t rush it.’
World No. 1 Jason Day, during his Wednesday news conference at this week’s BMW Championship, was glad to hear of Tiger’s return.
‘It’s great,’ Day said. ‘There’s probably a lot of anticipation to see how the state of his game is and I’m definitely looking forward to watching those tournaments and seeing how his body holds up and how the mental side and obviously the golf side of things hold up as well.’
Woods’ last competitive appearance came at the 2015 Wyndham Championship where he held a share of the 36-hole lead and ended up tied for 10th. There were times, though, when he appeared to limp slightly, and three weeks later, Woods revealed he had to have a second microdiscectomy surgery.
The first time Woods had the procedure, which was to alleviate a pinched nerve in his neck, was in April 2014. He was sidelined until July, missing the season’s first two majors, before returning to play in the Quicken Loans National he hosts.
Woods had hoped for a similarly quick recovery and rehabilitation after his second surgery in September 2015, announcing that he expected to return to the TOUR early this year. But that timetable went out the window when he had to have a follow-up procedure in late October 2015, his third on his back in 20 months.
In early December, about three weeks prior to his 40th birthday, Woods met with the media at the Hero World Challenge, which benefits his charitable foundation. At that point, he had not started rehab and was taking things day-by-day.
‘Where is the light at the end of the tunnel,’ he wondered aloud. ‘I don’t know.’
In March, Woods wrote on his website that he had begun chipping and putting, as well as hitting 9-irons. He said he needed to get stronger and more flexible.
‘While there is no timetable on my return to competitive golf, I want to play this game at the highest level again. In order to do that, I have to get healthy,’ he wrote.
In recent months, there were glimpses of Woods at corporate outings and at Bluejack National, the course he is designing outside Houston. A popular video on social media showed Woods bear-hugging an 11-year-old who aced the first hole at the opening of the 10-hole short course there.
Still, Woods announced on April 1 that he would not be playing in the Masters, marking the second time in the last three years that he didn’t play at Augusta National. He did, however, attend the Champions Dinner on Wednesday night.
As it turned out, Woods did not play in any of the four majors for the first time in his professional career, which began 20 years ago this month.
During Day’s rise to world No. 1, he and Woods texted each other frequently, but Day didn’t know of the exact timetable for Tiger’s return until Wednesday.
‘I knew that he was close to coming back and we chatted a little bit,’ Day said. ‘I don’t try and get into too much schedule stuff with him, but we chatted a bit and he felt like he was pretty positive with how the progression was going with his body and he felt like he was starting to make the turn with it and obviously if we’re going to see him three times in the fall, that it means that his body’s in good shape.
‘So I think the hardest thing for him is just to try and get the rust out and really get back to game-ready sharpness, which is obviously a difficult thing to do. Although we’re expecting big things from him, I don’t expect too much from him, even though he is Tiger Woods. … Even though you’re one of the greatest of all time, it’s very difficult to kind of get that sharpness back. It should take a few tournaments for him, but hopefully he gets it back pretty quickly and he can get back to, hopefully not to the old ways, but more so closer to the old ways and it would be fun to play against him when he’s at his best.’
Woods, who is four shy of equaling Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 professional major victories, has not won one of golf’s crown jewels since the 2008, when he captured the U.S. Open, which he played basically on one leg, in an 18-hole playoff. Eight days later doctors used a tendon from his right thigh to repair the torn ACL in his left knee.
Woods, who only made eight starts in 2014 and 11 in 2015, was sidelined by the knee surgery for eight months. The comparisons to his current situation stopped there.
‘My knee, that was easy compared to a nerve,’ Woods said in December. ‘It’s a thousand times easier.’