When you reexamine those horrifying images of Tiger Woods’ mangled SUV and reprocess the severity of his injuries, it’s almost unfathomable to think that next week — less than 10 months removed from his accident — Woods will return to signing scorecards in competition.
Among the physical trauma he suffered (to say nothing of the mental and emotional variety): comminuted open fractures in his right fibia and tibula, and a badly damaged right foot and ankle into which doctors inserted a series of screws and pins. It sounds horrible, and it was. “More painful than anything I have ever experienced,” Woods said of the still-ongoing rehab process. Even as recently as a few days ago, Woods was unsure whether he was ready to return to the course in earnest.
When Bubba Watson saw footage of Woods hitting shots on the range in the Bahamas last week, Watson dropped his old pal a text asking him if was going to play, as had been rumored, in the upcoming PNC Championship.
“He said, ‘Man, I don’t know if I can get around but I’m trying, I’m working,’” Watson recalled this week from Greg Norman’s event in South Florida.
As the world learned Wednesday, Woods has, in fact, committed to playing in the PNC, alongside his 12-year-old son Charlie, just as the two did a year ago in this same event. That Woods chose the PNC as the site of his son’s “Hello, world” moment tells you a lot about his comfort level at what just sounds like a comfortable venue: the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes. That Tiger is now throwing his own welcome-back party in this same setting tells you even more.
Here are 3 reasons why the PNC is the perfect spot for Phase I of the Tiger Woods Comeback Tour.
1. The Format
This is a big one. The format for the PNC is a two-round team scramble. That means (1) Tiger will need to play only 36 holes, and (2) He won’t even necessarily need to play every hole in its entirety. In a scramble, each player hits a shot and then you take the best of those two balls and play your next shot from there, following that routine all the way into the hole. If Charlie, who presumably will be playing from the forward tees as he did last year, busts a drive, leaving him and his father in fine position, Tiger could elect to go without a tee shot and simply start his hole from the middle of the fairway.
On the NBC broadcast from the Hero World Challenge last week, Steve Sands said that at last year’s PNC, Team Woods used Charlie’s tee shot on 15 or 16 holes, or about 44 percent of them. Leaning on Charlie’s tee shots and taking driver out of Tiger’s hands would help take some of the proverbial weight off Dad’s shoulders — and literal weight off his aching leg.
There’s also the matter of scoring. Tiger is as prideful an athlete as you’ll find. No matter what’s ailing him or however long he’s been away from the game, he would never want to shoot, say, an 83 for all the world to see. Best-ball scoring takes the pressure off. He and Charlie will post a cumulative team score.
2. The Rules (or lack thereof)
The PNC Championship ain’t the PGA Championship. With a wide breadth of skills and ages playing in the event, tournament organizers need to be flexible. Witness the medley of tees which the PNC field employed in 2020. Greg Norman, Nick Price and Bernhard Langer played a shorter course than more youthful players in the field. Annika Sorenstam played shorter tees still, while four other players played from even further up: Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Jackie Langer and Charlie Woods.
Could the event make tee accommodations for Tiger? Certainly.
“Every year we consult with the PGA Tour rules officials and we try to make it as fair and competitive as possible and so we’ll work through that situation in the coming days,” Teo Sodeman, the PNC Championship tournament director, told the Golf Channel on Wednesday.
Also, you can almost certainly expect to see Woods in a cart, something that would, of course, not be available to him in a standard PGA Tour event. It’s worth remembering that to this point in his recovery, we’ve only seen Woods in short bursts: a wedge swing there, a press conference there. What we’ve seen and heard has been remarkable, but we’ll learn a lot more when we observe him over an extended period — like, say, 18 holes. There will be all kinds of tells: how he paces across a green, whether he bends over to collect his ball (look for Charlie to handle that duty), how he interacts with the fans. There is much to celebrate with Tiger’s return to competition but we’d all be wise to keep reminding ourselves that Woods is still in the nascent stages of his recovery.
“I have so far to go … I’m not even at the halfway point,” Woods told Golf Digest. “I have so much more muscle development and nerve development that I have to do in my leg. At the same time, as you know, I’ve had five back operations. So I’m having to deal with that. So as the leg gets stronger, sometimes the back may act up. … It’s a tough road.”
3. The Vibe
But back to happier topics! The PNC could easily be rebranded as Tiger & Friends. It’s a good crowd for Woods: JT, Bubba, Daly, Kuch, O’Meara — Marko! They’ll all be welcoming back Tiger with warm smiles, open arms and good-natured ribbing. The weather is fine, the range is relaxed, the holidays and some downtime are beckoning. Players are not only hanging with their families but playing with them. The PNC is a happy place to be, and next week, it will be especially so.
Welcome back, Tiger!