Updates from Tuesday, June 24
Tiger Woods held a press conference Tuesday to discuss his return. The PGA's official Twitter feed provided some highlights:
Tiger: Right before I went in for the procedure I wasn't able to function. I couldn't get out of bed. I couldn't do any normal activities.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 24, 2014
Tiger: I'm actually ahead of schedule in what everybody thought I would be at. But I healed fast.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 24, 2014
Tiger on getting explosiveness back: It still hasn't happened. Not to the level I'm used to. That's going to come in time.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 24, 2014
Tiger on taking risk in coming back: I'm going to get stronger as time goes on. But the risk is minimal.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 24, 2014
ESPN Golf reports on Woods' expectations for the tournament:
Does @TigerWoods expect to win? “Expectations don’t change. That’s the ultimate goal. It’s going to be a little bit harder this time.”— ESPN Golf (@ESPNGolf) June 24, 2014
Asked what he shot in his first rounds back, @TigerWoods quipped, "I broke 50 for 9, just like when I was 3."— ESPN Golf (@ESPNGolf) June 24, 2014
Golf Central reports that Woods is ahead of his initial schedule:
Tiger says he “probably would not” play this week if the event didn’t benefit his foundation. “Our goal was the British Open," he says.— Golf Central (@GolfCentral) June 24, 2014
Golf.com has more on how Tiger feels:
Tiger says he feels as good as he's felt in two years. "It's been a very long time."— Golf.com (@si_golf) June 24, 2014
The PGA Tour also announced Woods' group and tee times for the first two rounds of the tournament:
Woods, returning from microdiscetomy surgery in his lower back, is paired with 20-year-old Jordan Spieth and 26-year-old Jason Day for the first two rounds of this week's Quicken Loans National at Congressional.
Tiger Woods, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth -- The last time Spieth played with Tiger, he shot a 63 to Tiger's 71 in the second round of the Farmers Insurance Open. (Rd. 1 - 8:12 a.m. ET: Rd. 2 - 1:12 p.m. ET)
The long-awaited return of Tiger Woods will take place at the Quicken Loans National at Congressional Country Club on Thursday, June 26. Tiger's charity, the Tiger Woods Foundation, hosts the tournament. The event will mark his first competitive rounds since the WGC-Cadillac Championship in early March.
Woods passed along word of his expected return on his Facebook page after overcoming a pinched nerve in his back that required surgery in late March and a slow recovery process:
After a lot of therapy I have recovered well and will be supporting my foundation next week at the Quicken Loans National. I've just started to hit full shots but it's time to take the next step. I will be a bit rusty but I want to play myself back into competitive shape. Excited for the challenge ahead.
Woods enjoyed a successful 2013, highlighted by five wins to lead the PGA Tour. He made the cut at all 16 events he started and finished inside the top 10 in half of them. The only thing missing in a year where his on-course earnings topped $8.5 million was a major title.
He played a lot of golf down the stretch of the season, however. He played seven tournaments over two months as he attempted to win the FedEx Cup (ultimately finishing second to Henrik Stenson). The lasting impact of that busy schedule became apparent early in 2014.
The 14-time major champion struggled mightily during the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open, leading to him missing the 54-hole cut. He was forced to withdraw during the final round of the Honda Classic and carded a 78 in the fourth round of the Cadillac Championship.
A common theme emerged for Woods. As the tournaments wore on, his body simply couldn't hold up. There were flashes of the player who was on fire for much of 2013, but they were fleeting.
In turn, he decided to shut it down to get the back problem fixed. One thing he maintained throughout the process was that the short-term setback would ensure he could continue playing at a high level for years to come.
Comments posted on his official site made it clear he was still focused on chasing down Sam Snead for the most PGA Tour wins and Jack Nicklaus for the most major titles:
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 hasn't won on one of golf's four biggest stages since 2008. Yet his absence had a noticeable impact on PGA events—not only in terms of the amount of buzz they generated ahead of time, but also the television ratings that followed.
Paulsen of Sports Media Watch reported the ratings for the final round of the U.S. Open were down significantly from the past two years. He also noted the poor viewing numbers followed a similar outcome at the Masters: "The likely record-low for the U.S. Open comes on the heels of a poor performance for The Masters, which finished with its lowest two-day average since 1957."
Will Woods return to contention right away?
Woods is the sport's biggest draw, and it's not even close. When he's in contention at any tournament—let alone a major—the ratings skyrocket. So you can bet the PGA Tour as well as its television partners and sponsors are very happy to learn of the superstar's return to the course.
The biggest question mark surrounds how effective he will be right out of the gate. Woods and his fans will hope the back procedure paired with the extended period of rest that came along with it will allow him to pick up where he left off in 2013. Jason Sobel of the Golf Channel discussed the decision:
Even if he's rusty, for Tiger to return this soon is obviously a huge positive following surgery. Will still play two of the four majors.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) June 20, 2014
Can't see any fault in Tiger deciding to give it a go next week. Either he feels good and plays well or he doesn't and just gets some reps.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) June 20, 2014
That's not a guarantee, of course. Coming off a long break usually results in some rust, and Woods also has to rebuild confidence in his back. He must be able to take a full swing off the tee without worrying about it acting up again.
It will probably take some time before he's ready to contend again. But as Woods mentioned all along, he was ready to trade short-term issues for long-term success. At the same time, the competitor inside him wants to win every time out.
Getting back on the tournament trail is another step in the right direction. Just don't be surprised if it takes some time for him to get back in the swing of things, both literally and figuratively.