Tiger Woods holding on to major dreams even as his body rejects them

Off-course work at Albany – a stint in the commentary booth, delivering putting lessons to amateurs and involvement in a PGA Tour player meeting – presumably does not vex Tiger Woods too much since his foundation benefits significantly from the Hero World Challenge, but looking on as others compete has never been his forte.

Woods was in the field until a Monday bulletin that punctured external enthusiasm for this event. Plantar fasciitis, which developed when he returned to walking on courses rather than driving in buggies, is the latest injury to halt him. Given the scale of effort Woods, who turns 47 this month, had to apply to render the Hero World Challenge even a possibility, it was a harsh blow.

“I love the sport,” he said. “I’ve been playing it for basically all my life. I’ve been a pro for more than half my life. So if you look at it in those terms, I’ve been a part of this sport and I’ve loved it. It’s just unfortunate I’m not able to do the things that I feel mentally I can do. The body just kind of rejects it.”

Woods has played nine competitive rounds in 2022. The last of them came in mid-July, when he cut an emotional figure at the Open. It seems incredible to recall he made the cut at the Masters, which preceded withdrawal after three rounds of the US PGA, the skipping of the US Open and those teary scenes at St Andrews.

Jon Rahm played alongside Woods at Augusta. “He puts on a bit of a show for the camera,” says the Spaniard. “He’s not going to show how much he’s really hurting. When we finished scoring, just seeing him stand up and move around that room when there’s nobody watching, there’s a difference, especially after playing 18 holes and after sitting down when your legs cool off a little bit. It changes.”

Woods is due to play alongside Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas in the Match next Saturday. He is also in the field for the PNC Championship, where he will partner his son, Charlie. Both events will feature golf carts. Woods has been adamant he will never use them in mainstream competition.

Woods enjoys much of the drama around him. He occasionally fuels it. The will he/won’t he over tournament appearances was a game long before the car crash of February 2021 that left him fearing his foot might be amputated. Last week, he spoke of a “few procedures” which developed into a “couple of surgeries” in the course of this year. Nobody would have known this had Woods not volunteered it; he relishes the role of superhuman.

He has, though, regularly admitted that his competitive days are numbered. “The goal is to play just the major championships and maybe one or two more,” he says. “That’s it. Physically that’s all I can do. I don’t have much left in this leg so gear up for the biggest ones, hopefully lightning catches in a bottle and I’m up there in contention with a chance to win. Then hopefully I remember how to do that.”

For now, he isn’t quite letting go. The language is interesting – if unsurprising – in that the 15-times major winner still speaks of challenging for trophies. It is almost as if he still has to convince himself.

The physical exertions associated with Augusta National mean it would be beyond description should Woods win another Masters. Next year the Open returns to Royal Liverpool, where Woods won the last of three Claret Jugs in 2006. He will be keen to return.

In February a test of his fitness will be whether or not Woods features at the Genesis Invitational, which he hosts. The fundamental problem with playing in majors and little else, even for someone of Woods’s experience level, is the inevitable lack of competitive sharpness it creates.

The development of Charlie, now 13, as a golfer is already a source of widespread intrigue. Tiger has revealed he plays “non-stop” mind games with his son in order to instil fortitude. “It’s going to get to a point where I can’t get into his head, then no one else can get in there either,” he explains. Charlie is taking lessons from the most mentally strong of them all. For Woods Sr, time inside the ropes is ticking down.