Tiger Woods may never play competitively again, a scenario that even he said last month was possible. However, the 14-time major winner has been working toward regaining his physical skills, following back surgery in April, and his potential comeback took a big step forward recently.
According to Woods’s agent, Mark Steinberg (via ESPN), the 41-year-old has been cleared for all golf-related activities after a checkup last week by the doctor who performed his surgery. “He got a nice report and is allowed to proceed,” Steinberg said Monday.
“He can do as much as he needs to do. Tiger is going to take this very, very slowly. This is good, but he plans to do it the right way.”
At the Presidents Cup in late September, where Woods was an assistant captain, he told reporters, “I don’t know what my future holds for me.” He added at the time that he was limited to hitting “60-yard shots,” but since then Woods has shared video showing him ramping up his club length, from mid-irons to driver.
April’s fusion surgery on his back represented the fourth such procedure for Woods, who has struggled to stay healthy in recent years. After playing in 16 PGA Tour events in 2013, winning five and finishing second in the FedEx Cup standings, he played in just 18 over the next two years combined, with no wins and seven missed cuts.
Woods sat out the entire 2016 PGA Tour season then appeared in just two events this season, in December and January, before playing his final competitive round in February at the Dubai Desert Classic. He cited back spasms in withdrawing from that tournament, then after the surgery, compounded his difficulties by getting arrested for DUI in May.
Woods blamed the incident on multiple pain medications he was taking, and he entered a DUI diversion program as part of a plea agreement. Meanwhile, he was slowly working on his golf game, and he said at the Presidents Cup that, while “the pain’s gone,” it would “take time to … figure out what my capabilities are going forward.”
Steinberg told ESPN that he couldn’t be sure that Woods would return to the Hero World Challenge, where he played his first event in December after a long layoff. “We have not even talked about it,” the agent said. “We will see what each day brings, what each week brings.”
A winner of 79 official PGA Tour events, second only to Sam Snead, Woods has not triumphed in a major since the 2008 U.S. Open. It does not seem likely at this point that he will come any closer to threatening Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors, but many golf fans would gladly settle for seeing Woods back on the Tour, and he has to be delighted at getting clearance to continue pursuing that goal.
“He has started to hit balls at a more aggressive rate,” Steinberg told the Associated Press. “He feels really good, but he’s going to take it very slowly. I think he’s excited that he’s not feeling pain. That’s what gets him excited, being able to bend down and pick up his kids.”
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