Seven weeks after he had surgery on his back, here is what Tiger Woods can do: chip some, putt a little, and play first-person shooter video games with opponents from across the Internet, anonymously. Three weeks before the U.S. Open begins, here’s what he can’t do: play catch with his kids or swing a golf club.
Thus, in his first public comments since undergoing the procedure that forced him to miss the Masters for the first time as a professional, Woods outlined what amounts to a dire picture for his immediate return while pointedly avoiding specifics about when he might be able to pull out a driver and let it rip. The U.S. Open June 12-15 at Pinehurst? Don’t know. The Quicken Loans National, which is hosted by Woods and benefits his foundation June 26-29 at Bethesda’s Congressional Country Club? Not sure.
“I think that’s been kind of the realization to all of this is that there’s no date,” Woods said Monday. “It’s just take it on a daily basis. It’s not going to be up to me whether I play or not. It’s going to be up to my docs. Obviously, I want to play now.”
Playing, though, is out of the question for the foreseeable future, and because of that Woods’s annual appearance at Congressional to promote his own tournament turned into a 20-minute question-and-answer session with Woods’s back as the focal point. Woods last spoke publicly March 24 in Washington when he and his foundation announced the partnership with Quicken Loans, which replaces AT&T as the title sponsor of the tournament. A week later, he had the surgery, and he had only previously addressed his condition in a long post on his Web site.
Monday, Woods revealed a process that requires a quality for which he is not known: Patience.
“It’s certainly debilitating initially,” Woods said. “Sore. Pain. Those are all things that do go away over time. This has been a different procedure than I’ve had in the past. Certainly a lot more tedious, I think, with the workouts and the little things you have to do, little minutia things you have to do on a daily basis.”
Woods’s daily routine doesn’t include golf or even games with his kids. “I am damn good at video games,” he said. But even playing catch with daughter Sam, 6, and son Charlie, 5, has been out of the question since he underwent the procedure — a microdiscectomy, which typically relieves a herniated disk — performed by a doctor in Park City, Utah.
“They saw me when I first got back, and I’m pretty sore and everything,” Woods said of his kids. “But then again, they soon forget that and want to go out and play soccer and hit some balls or do something like that. That part has been hard.”
Woods last played in the Cadillac Championship at Doral, when he fired a final-round 78 on March 9 to slip from contention into a tie for 25th. Monday, two months without competition caught up with him in the Official World Golf Ranking, in which Adam Scott of Australia supplanted him as No. 1. The U.S. Open will mark six years since the most recent of his 14 major championships. The British Open, to be held July 17-20 at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England — where Woods won the Claret Jug in 2006 — might be a more reasonable target for a return. But Woods conceded that he doesn’t know how he’ll perform once he’s allowed to practice all-out.
“I don’t know when I come back and start ramping it up how far am I away from being explosive,” Woods said. “Do I still have that capability of hitting the ball like that? But once I start feeling like that, I don’t think it would take more than a couple weeks to where I can get out there and feel like I can compete. Now, how rusty am I going to be? The more time you give me, I think the better I’ll be.”
Woods, 38, would also like to play at Congressional. Mark Steinberg, Woods’s agent, said Woods would appear at the event even if he can’t play, as he did last year, when he couldn’t play because of a strained left elbow. Mike Antolini, the new tournament director, said Monday that defending champ Bill Haas as well as former champs K.J. Choi and Justin Rose (who also won the 2013 U.S. Open) were among the early commitments. Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old rising star who contended at both the Masters and the Players Championship, will also play, as will England’s Lee Westwood, a perennial major contender who hasn’t traditionally made Congressional one of his stops.
But it remains to be seen whether the event’s marquee draw, its host, will be able to play. Woods said the surgery has made him more optimistic about playing at a high level without pain. But the longer he sits, the more questions arise — not only about this summer, but about his entire career.
“I would like to, as all athletes, go out on my own terms,” Woods said. “That’s what ultimately I want to continue playing at the elite level for as long as I deem I want to do it. For some guys that’s in their 60s and 70s. Other guys it’s in their 40s and 50s. But prior to the surgery, I didn’t think I would have much of a playing career if I felt like this because as I said, I couldn’t get out of bed.”