Freewheeling Tiger Woods lets loose in Hero press conference
NASSAU, Bahamas — Outside the media tent it was a calm Bahamas morning. A gentle breeze blew across the driving range, newly vacated by a group of amateurs playing in a 9:30 a.m. shotgun start. A HERO WORLD CHALLENGE banner with Tiger Woods’ face fluttered in a gust. Beneath it, Sam Burns worked on his pitch shots. Michael Greller readied a putting drill. Beside the practice green, a security guard yawned.
A minute before 10 a.m., Woods — flanked by agent Mark Steinberg — pulled up to the rear of the tent. He walked to the front of the room beside Hero CEO Pawan Munjal. They took their seats three across at the front of the room: PGA Tour media official Jack Ryan, Woods and Munjal. Displayed to Munjal’s right was the Vida, Hero’s new electric scooter. Black with red trim. Tiger colors.
They sat in silence for a moment while the camera operators at the room’s rear double-checked their frame. One media member in the second row had to move; he was blocking the edge of the shot. Woods cracked a smile. “Busted,” he said quietly. Then the presser began.
For the next 30 minutes, Woods let loose. He fielded questions on his injured leg, on LIV, on the future of the game. He took shots at Greg Norman. He clarified his stance on golf carts. He explained his schedule. And he reminded us that this chapter of his career will have as much to do with shaping the game’s future as it will his actual on-course participation.
On his WD
Woods announced on Monday afternoon that he was withdrawing from this week’s Hero, where he is serving as host. He didn’t take the decision lightly; Woods had undergone intense preparations in the lead-up to the event that included walking rounds, trying different pre-round routines and spending extra time walking on the beach in an attempt to “simulate the sand” at this week’s course, Albany. Now he has to play the waiting game again.
“It’s going to take probably, you know, a month or two of rest. But also, it was the ramping-up process that did it,” he said, underscoring his daily dilemma: rest or work?
“It’s a balancing act, right? How hard do you push it to make progress while not pushing it too hard to go off the edge and you set yourself back two, three days? And that’s been the balancing act the whole year.”
On his upcoming schedule
From talking to people around Woods, one thing is clear: His game is still there. He has progressed significantly since his last competitive appearance at St. Andrews, too, only adding to his frustration upon WDing. Woods himself added that he was shooting “4, 5, 6, 7 under par like it was nothing — but I was in a cart.”
On two feet? Different story.
“I like playing, I like competing,” Woods said. “But unfortunately, I can hit the golf ball and hit whatever shot you want, I just can’t walk.”
Still, Woods expects no issues playing next week’s Match nor the following week’s PNC Championship, where he’ll partner with his 13-year-old son Charlie.
“Charlie will just hit all the shots and I’ll just get the putts out of the hole, so pretty easy there,” he said.
On LIV vs. the PGA Tour
Looking back a year, Woods said, he wouldn’t have foreseen the golf world undergoing such a dramatic shift.
“And the animosity from both sides. I don’t think we would’ve seen that a year ago,” he said.
He had some choice words for LIV defectors, objecting to some of the pros who left and “the way they showed their disregard or disrespect to the Tour that helped them get to that point.”
Woods appreciated some of the players who were more up front about their reasons for leaving — namely money — but added that he found others “a little bit on the tasteless side.”
He saved his most direct words for Greg Norman. Echoing Rory McIlroy’s plea from a couple weeks ago, Woods made it clear: “I think Greg has to go, first of all,” he said.
He reiterated that idea several more times, referring to a potential “opportunity.” He said as currently constructed, both leagues can’t coexist.
“Not with their leadership, not with Greg there and his animosity towards the tour itself. I don’t see that happening.”
Later he said it one more time, for good measure:
“I think Greg’s got to leave and then we can eventually, hopefully, have a stay between the two lawsuits and figure something out.”
That last bit got at another important note from Woods’ side: the willingness to potentially compromise with LIV. He seemed to call for two actions from LIV’s side — that they ditch Norman and drop their lawsuit against the PGA Tour — and implied that if those two things happened, discussions could follow. He didn’t get into specifics; it’s still unclear what a compromise would actually look like or if either side is interested in finding it.
“Then we can talk, we can all talk freely,” Woods said. But it’s clear those discussions are hardly imminent and, as he added, the window is closing.
On his message to other PGA Tour players
Woods was present — in charge, in fact — for the meeting at this year’s BMW Championship in which he laid out changes the Tour would make in part to retain top talent. What did he tell them?
Woods acknowledged that the Tour can’t compete dollar for dollar with the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which he referred to as “an endless pit of money” backing LIV. But they have other advantages. He spoke to the ability to get into major championships, which some LIVers have foregone for good. And he outlined an empty future for those who departed.
“Where does your legacy stand there? You know, I went on the Tour and made a lot of money, but I never got to win any tournaments that are of value that would put me in the Hall of Fame and things of that nature.”
On Rory McIlroy
Perhaps Woods’ kindest words were for McIlroy. The two have worked side by side on the Tour’s future and several add-on ventures. He was impressed with McIlroy’s ability to lead and win at the same time.
“What Rory has said and done are what leaders do,” he said. “Rory is a true leader out here on Tour. The fact that he’s actually able to get the things he said out in the public eye, be so clear-minded with it and so eloquent with it, meanwhile go out there and win golf tournaments on top of that? People have no idea how hard that is to do, to be able to separate those two things.
“But he’s been fantastic. He’s a great leader in our calls we make and he’s a great leader with all the players out here. Everyone respects him and they respect him not just because his ball-striking, his driving, but the person he is.”
On the new OWGR
Here, Woods echoed Jon Rahm rather than McIlroy. Rahm shredded the Official World Golf Ranking changes at the DP World Tour’s season-ending event in Dubai when that event received fewer points than the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic. The gripe is that the OWGR’s new system does a poor job of handling high-wattage, limited-field events. Woods agreed.
“It’s a flawed system,” he said plainly. “The field at Dubai got less points than Sea Island and more of the top players were there in Dubai, so obviously there’s a flawed system.”
He didn’t outline a solution — in fairness, OWGR talk gets nerdy quickly — but made it clear there needs to be one.
“It has been changed in the past and I’m sure this will be changed, hopefully soon.”
On Covid at the Open
Earlier this week, in an interview with the Irish Independent, Rory McIlroy said he was afraid he’d given Woods Covid in the lead-up to the Open Championship. Woods said that wasn’t the case.
“Yeah, I got tested. I was always negative,” he said. “I was I feeling under the weather, yes, wasn’t feeling great the whole week, but I never got a positive test.”
On golf carts
Woods has made it clear that he isn’t interested in taking a golf cart to play a PGA Tour event. He doubled down on Tuesday, saying that he would be able to play the Hero if he were to use a cart but that he’s not interested in doing so.
At the PNC or the Match? Sure. But Woods said he’d even opposed the measure that allowed his former Stanford teammate Casey Martin to compete on Tour in a cart.
“What he did with the ADA [American with Disabilities Act], I voted against it. I think golf — it’s an integral part of the game at our level, and I will never take a golf cart until it’s sanctioned. It’s sanctioned on the Champions Tour and the PNC is part of that. As far as a regular event, no, I would never do that.”
On further surgeries
Woods casually mentioned that, due to playing, he’d undergone “a few more procedures.”
He didn’t have much interest in elaborating. Here’s how that went, Woods grinning all the while:
TIGER WOODS: I had a couple surgeries, yes.
Q. Can you elaborate?
TIGER WOODS: Nope.
Q. Can you say when?
TIGER WOODS: In the past.
Q. In the past.
TIGER WOODS: This year.
Q. Thank you.
TIGER WOODS: You’re welcome.
On his hopes for the future
Woods looked at the bright side when reflecting on his season. His main goal had been to gear up for the Open Championship, he said. Making the cut at two additional majors — the Masters and the PGA — had been a bonus.
Going forward, he knows it’s not realistic to play a full schedule. But he still wants to play. Why?
“Well, I love competing,” he said. “You know, I love the sport. I’ve been playing it for most — well, basically all my life.”
We’ve speculated as to what Woods’ schedule might look like at full strength. He was as clear as he’s been about how he envisions his golf going forward.
“The goal is to play just the major championships and maybe one or two more. That’s it,” he said. “I mean, physically, that’s all I can do. I told you guys that at the beginning of this year, too. I don’t have much left in this leg, so [I’ll] gear up for the biggest ones and hopefully lightning catches in a bottle and I’m up there in contention with a chance to win and hopefully I remember how to do that.”
Hopefully, indeed. This week Woods will serve as tournament host; he’s in charge.
He seems increasingly comfortable in the role.