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The Five: Undying Confidence Highlights Biggest Observations of Tiger Woods’ Return

Any week that Tiger Woods competes could be conceivably dubbed “Tiger Woods Week.” Though, when he’s making his first start in seven months at a tournament he hosts and won five times before, it’s hard not to argue this week deserves the moniker.

Woods is back in the PGA TOUR limelight for the first time since withdrawing at the Masters with plantar fasciitis in April. He spoke to the media on Tuesday and played in the pro-am on Wednesday.

This week, The Five looks at the five biggest observations regarding Woods’ return.

Swing looks ready, but his body is still a question

Initially scheduled for 18 holes, Woods walked only nine in Wednesday’s pro-am at the Hero World Challenge. Woods made the decision before the round, fill-in caddie Rob McNamara told reporters, and he didn’t show any signs of fatigue or pain as he walked the front nine at Albany Golf Club.

Still, it represents the caution Woods is taking with his latest comeback. He has finished only two tournaments in the last two years. A full 18-hole pro-am would mean 90 holes over five days. For Woods, who admitted Tuesday that he hasn’t played many full rounds of golf since his injury, that type of stress on his body was an unnecessary risk.

Woods walked with a noticeable limp during the pro-am, but he said during his pre-tournament press conference that the right ankle operated on was not causing him pain. His swing looked in control, and his game was steady. He missed just one fairway on the front nine.

“I’m not concerned at all about walking it,” Woods said. “It’s more, as I said, I don’t have any of the ankle pain that I had with the hardware that’s been placed in my foot, that’s all gone. The other parts of my body, my knee hurts, my back. The forces go somewhere else. Just like when I had my back fused, the forces have to go somewhere. So it’s up the chain.”

All eyes will be on Woods when he tees off Thursday in the heat of real competition. Woods said Tuesday that the best-case scenario for his 2024 schedule would be to play one tournament a month. The Hero World Challenge offers him – and the rest of the golfing world – the first opportunity to see if that’s a realistic goal.

“I’m excited to compete and play, and I’m just as curious as all of you are to see what happens because I haven’t done it in a while,” Woods said.

Undying confidence still ever-present

Many outlandish statistics, stories and adjectives do an admirable job of describing Woods and his greatness. But strip those away and ask Woods if there’s one word he would use to describe himself, it’s likely competitor.

There’s nothing left for Tiger Woods to prove. He’s accomplished every conceivable feat a golfer in the modern era could dream.

His latest surgery, a subtalar fusion procedure on his right ankle to eradicate a plantar fasciitis issue that stemmed from his February 2021 car crash, was first and foremost for his quality of life. It was so he could walk pain-free with his kids and live normally. Golf was secondary – but it wasn’t out of mind.

As he has done many times before, Woods went through months of rehab to get himself back into playing shape. But why? Why keep doing it?

“I love competing, I love playing,” he said. “I miss being out here with the guys, I miss the camaraderie and the fraternity-like atmosphere out here and the overall banter. But what drives me is I love to compete.”

So, you being here assumes you think you can still win?


Whether or not Woods has the stamina and ability to follow through will bear out over the coming months and years. But his firm belief is telling enough. You don’t reach the heights Woods has reached without irrational confidence. That remains alive and well in Woods, no matter how many surgeries he’s had.

Woods’ forthright nature only growing

There’s been a noticeable softening to Woods in the last decade. He’s more approachable. He advises players on how to battle injuries and sends myriad texts to congratulate his peers on their victories. Gone are the days of curt exchanges with players and media or epic staredowns.

Ask a veteran media member to compare a present-day press conference to one from the mid-2000s, they will tell you it’s two completely different people speaking. Even the shifts from 2018 to now are noticeable.

Maybe the constant flow of injuries has something to do with it, or Woods is evolving. Either way, he’s offering up insight more frequently than ever before. And it’s beneficial for everyone involved.

Tuesday was another example, and Woods did it unintentionally. Asked about the recovery of his friend and tennis legend, Rafa Nadal, Woods might have peeked into his psyche.

“The guy’s beyond tough and beyond competitive,” Woods said. “He knows that Father Time is here. Every athlete faces it. Although some sports it happens faster than others, and unfortunately just like every sport, you get aged out. I don’t want to see him go. I never wanted to see [Roger Federer] go, but that’s what happened. We should all enjoy watching him compete and watching him play and what he’s meant to the game, what he’s meant to all of us.”

Enjoy watching Woods for however long he stays in golf, though, if you listen to Woods, he’s not quite ready say an end is near.

“There will come a point in time, I haven’t come around to it fully yet, that I won’t be able to win again,” he said. “When that day comes, I’ll walk.”

Woods’ resilience remains a feat to his peers

Overshadowed by Woods’ return to PGA TOUR competition this week is another top player making his first start since the Masters. A player that has become intimately familiar with the tribulations Woods has put his body through.

Will Zalatoris spoke to the media Tuesday for the first time since he underwent a microdiscectomy to alleviate pain in his back that caused him to withdraw from the Masters. Woods has had the same procedure four times – once in 2014, twice in 2015 and again in 2021. Dr. Greg Rose, the surgeon who performed at least one of Woods’ surgeries, was Zalatoris’ surgeon.

Zalatoris, 27, detailed the struggles of his seven-month rehab and the patience required to come through on the other side fully healthy. Then, he took time to acknowledge Woods’ incredible resilience.

“It’s ridiculous,” Zalatoris said. “There’s no other way to put it. What he’s doing and what he’s gone through with his body, especially to come back and win another major after everything he had gone through. And mine, like I said, was on a much lesser scale without knowing exactly what he had done. It’s mind-blowing to me in so many aspects.

Woods played his first full round since Augusta with Justin Thomas. Thomas admitted there were a few wayward shots, but was impressed by his overall performance.

Said Thomas: “Obviously he’s never going to be as sharp as he wants given the amount of – that he’s gone through with his body and whatnot, but at the same time – I’m sure he said it earlier and he’s always going to say it – he’s not going to tee it up if he thinks he’s going to come out here and embarrass himself.”

Woods’ latest comeback had nothing to do with his back, but the reverence among other top golfers remains the same.

“This was my first time really having any sort of surgery in my entire life and going through that recovery process,” Zalatoris said. “The fact that [Woods] had to go through so much and still be as good as he is, even up in his late 40s now, still being able to go out and just play in majors is just … there’s no other words to put it besides just putting it in the list of remarkable things that that guy’s done in his career.”

Much of Woods’ future is up in the air

The Hero World Challenge is a test run for Woods in many respects. He isn’t quite sure what to expect from his game. What it yields will have a cascading effect going forward.

That starts with his schedule. Woods said Tuesday that his best-case scenario would include playing once a month, beginning with The Genesis Invitational. A hypothetical schedule is easy to speculate about from there. He could play Riviera in February, THE PLAYERS Championship in March, then all four major championships through the summer.

That’s what the competitor in Woods hopes. His body will be the determining factor. And he gets a full look at how his body will hold up by playing this week.

“I need to get myself ready for all that,” Woods said. “I think this week is a big step in that direction.”

Who will caddy for Woods in whatever events he does play? That needs to be answered, too. For this week, longtime business partner McNamara is on the bag. Could that partnership continue? McNamara is currently the vice president of TGR Ventures. Caddying would require sacrifice in his current role.

And will his form hold up? When he has finished tournaments in the last two years, it hasn’t come with strong finishes. How long will Woods allow that to continue before he hangs it up?

Most of these qualms can be solved by playing well. And Woods still believes he’s got the goods to win.

Source : PGA Tour