Is Tiger Woods injured? It’s complicated.
On Tuesday at the Memorial, Tiger Woods was asked to compare his health to the last time he played a PGA Tour event, which was in February at the Genesis.
“I feel so much better than I did then. I’ve been able to train and concentrate on getting back up to speed and back up to tournament speed,” he said.
On Thursday, Woods opened with a 1-under 71. “It felt good. I mean, it felt good. I was a little bit rusty, but felt like overall it was a good start,” he said.
On Friday, Woods looked out of sorts en route to a grimace-rich 4-over 76. His health?
“I couldn’t quite turn back and couldn’t quite clear,” he said. “It was a bit of a struggle.”
He added one truism, to go with that: “Aging is not fun.”
Saturday, Woods looked to be moving much better on his way to another 71. “Felt more like I did the first day, and that’s just the way it is.”
Sunday, Woods shot 76 again, though that seemed to have more to do with the golf course playing like some combination of the U.S. and British Opens than it did with any physical limitations.
“Overall for my first week back, it was a lot, a lot of positives,” he said.
For years now, golf fans have toggled between elation at “Tiger Woods is back!” and sorrow at “Tiger Woods’ back…” So the logical question becomes this one: Is Tiger Woods healthy? Hurt? Injured? The answer is still murky.
After the round, Joe LaCava reminded reporters just how different this layoff had been than Woods’ last break of several months, which came in 2017.
“Yeah, that was almost a whole year, but that was different circumstances, hurt, beat up, completely different circumstance,” LaCava said. By that logic, Woods isn’t hurt now. He’s just living a new reality.
It’s worth recalling that at the Presidents Cup, where Woods looked every bit like the best player on the U.S. team, he completely skipped Saturday’s sessions because, as Fred Couples recalled, his back didn’t feel right. He looked fantastic Friday and he looked fantastic Sunday, but on Saturday he didn’t feel good enough to go. That works just fine in team match play, but 72-hole stroke play events are a bit less flexible, schedule-wise.
It’s also notable the way Woods talks about his health now. He’s battled injuries of one sort or another throughout his career, but for so long, the party line from Team Tiger was some version of “it’s fine, it’s great, it’s never been better.” Now?
“I feel stiff, but I have weeks like that, especially on cold mornings like it was the other day. Don’t quite move as well and that’s just kind of how it’s going to go,” he said at the Genesis.
“It started this morning during the warmup,” Woods said after Friday’s round at the Memorial. “It wasn’t quite as good as I’d like, and it is what it is.”
Woods seems particularly human after difficult rounds these days. There’s something to be said for a man obsessed with controlling variables finally admitting that there’s one big thing — his physical health — that’s completely out of his hands. Plus, when a microphone appears in front of you after a five-hour grind, who wouldn’t be a little bit vulnerable?
So the answer isn’t that Woods is injured, nor is it that he’s healthy. Really, the answer is that this is Woods’ new reality: Wake up, check the weather, check the back, acknowledging that he may have no more control over the latter than the former.
The follow-up question, then, is when we’ll see Woods tee it up next. Optimists penciled him in for the WGC-FedEx St. Jude in Memphis, but that would mean playing two tournaments in a row, with the PGA Championship coming the following week. Woods played it cool post-round, acknowledging that he needed more reps while declining to say those would be tournament reps.
“Soon,” he told Amanda Balionis on CBS after his round with a grin. He’s still not tipping his hand.
Perfect health or not, Woods finished all four rounds at Muirfield Village. He got to wear the red shirt, the black pants, the yellow ribbon. That’s worth quite a bit.
LaCava, stoic by nature, was asked at the week’s conclusion how it felt to be spending time with Woods again.
“Elated,” he said. “Elated to see Rob [McNamara] and him and Erica [Herman] and to come to one of my favorite spots. What’s not to like?”