Tiger Woods is back this week, but that doesn’t mean what it once did

Tiger Woods is making his first public appearance this week since the PNC Championship in December (pictured).

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When your Wikipedia page is so long it’s outside the gimme range, there is no shortage of red-letter anniversaries. Well, Tiger’s life is outside the leather, and the This Day in Tiger Woods desk calendar would be a perennial bestseller, if only it existed. Some highlights:

Dec. 30. (His birthdate, 1975.)

Jan. 25. (Loudest ace ever, Phoenix Open, 1997.)

March 25. (Regains No. 1 world ranking, 2013.)

May 6. (Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2019.)

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June 18. (Birth of first child, 2007.)

July 23. (Wins Open at Old Course and completes career grand slam, 2000.)

Aug. 29. (Turns pro with “Hello, world,” 1996.)

Sept. 23. (First victory in five years, at East Lake, win No. 80, 2018.)

Oct. 5. (Marries Elin Nordegren in Barbados, 2004.)

Nov. 21. (Posts a single swing on Twitter and millions click, 2021.)

That last entry was made possible by two of the biggest events of Woods’s life.

On April 13, 1997 — nearly 25 years ago now — Tiger Woods, at age 21, in his first major tournament as a professional, won the Masters by 12 shots. Tiger’s patron, Phil Knight of Nike, calls that win “golf’s Jackie Robinson moment.”

That understates it. With that win, Woods launched career paths for Tony Finau, Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau, the Korda sisters, scores of Golf Channel employees, various marketing people at IMG, Nike, Titleist, Buick and untold others. The folks that brought us Tiger Tracker.

A quarter of a century ago, Woods’ first Masters win changed the game. Stephen Munday/ALLSPORT

And then there is one of the darkest days of his life: Feb. 23, 2021. It was on that day, on that Tuesday morning, that Woods drove off a Los Angeles road, down a dusty hill and into a tree, his foot inexplicably on the gas pedal all the while, sustaining a range of serious injuries and changing forever the path of his own career, and the path of his life.

That single-vehicle crash came about 36 hours after the conclusion of last year’s Genesis Open at Riviera, an event Woods hosted, as he will again this week. He was not in the field last year, as he recuperated from back surgery, and he’s not in the field this year, either.

Twice last year, at the only public appearances he has made since that car crash, Woods has said that his days of playing tournament golf on anything like a full-time basis are over. He’s 46.

If thinking about that looming Feb. 23 anniversary doesn’t pain you, your empathy gene is broken. No matter what you think of Tiger Woods, he’s a dedicated father, a committed educational philanthropist and an inspiration to millions of people around the world.

On Wednesday at Riviera, Woods will have a press conference. He will put on a brave face. He will be in pain, literally and otherwise.

After nearly 30 years of Tiger Woods press conferences, there are some things we can expect from this one.

He will offer a few vague details about his physical condition, say nothing revealing about his mental state, express a desire, without making a commitment, to play in this year’s Masters and forcefully defend the PGA Tour as it prepares to take on any and all competing golf leagues.

After nearly 30 years of Tiger Woods press conferences, there are some things we can expect from this one.

On the subject of his first Masters win, 25 years ago, Woods might wryly note that he is now an old man.

He’ll offer some broad, positive commentary about the game’s youngsters, including Max Homa (last year’s Genesis winner) and Scottie Scheffler (last week’s winner in Phoenix). He may get off some sly one-liners about Brooks’ blond hair and maybe Phil’s “obnoxious greed” quote. 

He’ll be on point. He’ll stick to the script. 

He will offer nothing new about Feb. 23, 2021. (The last time he was asked a question about the crash, he said, “All those answers have been answered in the investigation, so you can read about all that there in the post report.”)

Given the devastating injuries he incurred, Woods’ play at the PNC Championship in December, alongside his son, was astounding. Woods has said many times over the years that the best moments of his life are “inside the ropes.” Playing tournament golf in general and in grand slam events most particularly. Contending in grand slam events, when you get right down to it.

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Since August 2013, Woods has had three majors in which he contended. Three. In 2016, 2017 and 2021 he didn’t play in a single major.

One of the most significant preoccupations of his life, by observation of him and by his admission, has been preparing for golf’s four major championships. And he hasn’t been doing that for anything like a regular basis for more than eight years.

It begs the question: What does Tiger Woods actually do with his days? Yes, he has his business life and his foundation life, his kids and his yacht and his girlfriend. But the thing that has made Tiger Woods Tiger Woods is his singular ability at golf. That’s what we latch on to every time we see him. But we’re holding on to yesterday.

This week at Riviera, at the Wednesday press conference, at the Sunday trophy presentation, maybe on the range, maybe in the CBS broadcast booth, Woods will seem busy. It will seem, almost, like business as usual. But it won’t be. Because after this week, Woods will likely go into hibernation again for another seven weeks or so.

The Champions Dinner at Augusta is on April 6, a Tuesday night. A good guess is Tiger will be there. You may not hear a word from him, but you’ll see him in his green coat, alongside Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player and Mark O’Meara and Hideki Matsuyama.

Keeping up appearances is nobody’s idea of a good time. But sometimes, it’s all you can do.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael.Bamberger@Golf.com

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Michael Bamberger

Golf.com Contributor

Michael Bamberger writes for GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. Before that, he spent nearly 23 years as senior writer for Sports Illustrated. After college, he worked as a newspaper reporter, first for the (Martha’s) Vineyard Gazette, later for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He has written a variety of books about golf and other subjects, the most recent of which is The Second Life of Tiger Woods. His magazine work has been featured in multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing. He holds a U.S. patent on The E-Club, a utility golf club. In 2016, he was given the Donald Ross Award by the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the organization’s highest honor.