Tiger Woods hasn't played a round of competitive golf since the WGC-Cadillac Championship in March, and he won't play in this week's Wells Fargo Championship in North Carolina. He last participated in the event at Quail Hollow in 2012.
Woods continues to recover from a back injury that forced him to miss the Masters. Although a clear timetable for his return to action hasn't been released, which isn't a surprise given the tight-lipped nature of his status throughout his career, it sounds like he's making progress.
Bob Harig of ESPN.com passed along comments from agent Mark Steinberg, who said Woods is far enough along in his recovery to start doing some light course work. He noted that doctors believe the fan favorite is on schedule, even though that doesn't really mean much at this point: "He's doing a little bit more and more each day. He's getting to the point of light chipping and putting and the doctors and trainers seem to be pleased with where he is. He is on schedule but we don't know what that schedule means. I don't know when he intends to be playing competitively."
Steinberg went on to say that the loose time frame for Woods' return is sometime during the summer. He admitted that's an extremely vague approximation and said a more concrete outlook should be available in the coming weeks, barring any setbacks:
But I expect it to be this summer. I know that's a wide range, but as the weeks go by we'll be able to pinpoint an approximate time. It's still a little early for that. Nothing that has gone on from the day of the surgery until today gives me any pause to amend what I said then. I know that's broad and vague but we can't pinpoint a specific time until we're further along.
In a separate interview with Steve DiMeglio of USA Today, Steinberg said Woods is approaching his recovery with a long-term focus on his career and the next 10 or 15 years. In the short term, he's simply disappointed he can't do usual things at home or on the course: "He's with (his) kids and it is killing him that he can't do what he normally does with the kids. It's also killing him that he can't swing a golf club and win tournaments. It doesn't sit well when he can't do what he wants to do."
Woods lost a playoff to Zach Johnson at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge in December. He then took more than a month off from competition before returning at the Farmers Insurance Open, where he simply didn't look like the same player who had dominated outside of the majors last year.
How many more majors will Woods win?
With each passing event, the back problems became more evident. He would go through stretches of strong play, and then his back would start acting up. It was bad enough during the final round of the Honda Classic that he was forced to withdraw.
He made it through one more tournament, the aforementioned WGC-Cadillac Championship, but shot a 78 in the final round to finish a distant 25th.
Immediately, his status for the Masters was brought into question. So it didn't come as a surprise when Woods announced in early April that he wouldn't be able to play. At the time, he talked about still having his sights set on records set by Sam Snead and Jack Nicklaus: "It's tough right now, but I'm absolutely optimistic about the future. There are a couple [of] records by two outstanding individuals and players that I hope one day to break. As I've said many times, Sam and Jack reached their milestones over an entire career. I plan to have a lot of years left in mine."
Woods has remained pretty quiet since that point, but he did take to Twitter to give a shoutout to the Stanford golf teams for their conference titles this past week:
Congrats to Conrad Ray and Anne Walker for leading @Stanford men's and women's golf teams to Pac-12 titles Sunday. Go CARD!— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) April 28, 2014
Ultimately, the golfing legend is making the right call. He needs five more majors to pass Nicklaus for the most all time, and he's unlikely to win them at the same rate he did during his prime, which makes staying healthy important.
Alas, tournaments without him simply don't generate the same type of buzz. His presence in the field is enough to get people to watch, even if he's trailing and they are just watching to see if he can make a run. There aren't many other players, if any, with that type of drawing power.
It doesn't sound like his return is imminent, but a clearer picture should emerge soon.