Tiger Woods understandably values nine lives more highly than 15 major championships. Speaking at a press conference for the first time since the February car crash that left him wheelchair bound and fearing he may have to have a leg amputated, the golfer laid bare the scale of his worst fears.
“I’m lucky to be alive but also still have the limb,” said Woods. “Those are two crucial things. I’m very grateful that someone upstairs was taking care of me, that I’m able to not only be here but also to walk without a prosthesis.”
Woods said removal of his right leg was “on the table”. Instead, a noticeably bulked-up Woods strode into the media centre at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas and spoke expansively of his new normal. Without, that is, having any desire to address precisely what happened in the single-car incident in February on a sun-kissed California morning.
“All those answers have been answered in the [police] investigation,” he said. “So you can read about all that there in the post report.” Los Angeles police noted Woods driving at between 84 and 87mph in a 45mph zone but there is precious little by way of added detail.
What the authorities do not at all cover, of course, are Woods’s own memories. He later admitted initial unwillingness to view external analysis. “I had friends that insulated me from a lot of the things that were said outside,” Woods explained. “I didn’t have my phone. I did have access to a TV and I was just watching sports. I refused to turn on the local channels and news and stuff like that, I didn’t want to go down that road. I wasn’t mentally ready for that road yet.
“A lot of things in my body hurt at that time and whether I was on medication or not, it still hurt. And just trying to imagine me coming off of that stuff, how much it was going to hurt, I didn’t want to have my mind go there yet, it wasn’t ready.
“People are going to poke and prod and want to know more about my business, I understand that. They can poke and prod at me all they want, just stay away from my family.” Woods said he does not suffer flashbacks to February. “I am very lucky that way.”
Woods, the tournament host in the Bahamas, appears fully at peace with what happens next. As he continues with rehabilitation there is acknowledgement that tournament appearances will be minimal, if possible at all. Surgery on Woods’s leg was his 11th overall. The key reference point regarding his positive state of mind was the Masters of 2019; he won at Augusta National in extraordinary circumstances after recovery from a long-standing back problem.
“It’s very easy [to be content] given the fact that I was able to come back after the fusion surgery and do what I did,” said Woods. “I got that last major and I ticked off two more events along the way. I don’t foresee this leg ever being what it used to be and the clock is ticking. I’m getting older, I’m not getting any younger. All that combined means that a full schedule and a full practice schedule and the recovery that it would take to do that? No, I don’t have any desire to do that. I have made the climb enough times.” Whether “last” in this context meant final or previous is open to interpretation.
There are, however, rough targets. Next year’s Open Championship, the 150th at the Old Course, holds great appeal. “I would love to play at St Andrews, there’s no doubt about it,” said Woods. “It’s my favourite golf course in the world. Yes, I would love to be able to play that Open Championship, there’s no doubt about it. Physically, hopefully I can. I’ve got to get there first. The tournament is not going to go anywhere but I need to get there.” Woods sat down with his family and discussed whether he would “put them through it again” in respect of even attempting to play tournament golf.
“The consensus was yes,” he said. “Now, internally, I haven’t reached that point. I haven’t proven it to myself that I can do it. I can show up here and I can host an event, I can play a par-three course, I can hit a few shots, I can chip and putt, but we’re talking about going out there and playing against the world’s best on the most difficult golf courses under the most difficult conditions.
“I’m so far from that. To see some of my shots fall out of the sky a lot shorter than they used to is a little eye-opening, but at least I’m able to do it again. That’s something that for a while there it didn’t look like I was going to. Now I’m able to participate in the sport of golf. To what level? I do not know that.”
Woods took a swipe at Greg Norman-led plans for a breakaway golf tour, which are backed by Saudi Arabia. “I’m supporting the PGA Tour,” he said. “That’s where my legacy is.” With his foundation benefiting from this week’s tournament, he highlighted how society’s “haves and have-nots” scenario has been sadly emphasised by the pandemic.
In closing, there was a gentle reminder that Woods will turn 46 on 30 December. “Thanks, man,” he said with a smile. “This year has been a year I would like to turn the page on. It’s been full of some tough memories and some tough times. It would be nice to turn the page.”