Tour Confidential: Tiger Woods takeaways, his next potential start, a bizarre Hero World Challenge
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we discuss Tiger Woods’ first public press conference since his car accident, wonder where he might tee it up next and recap an eventful final round of the Hero World Challenge.
1. Tiger Woods, first in an interview with Golf Digest, then in a press conference ahead of this week’s Hero World Challenge, gave his first public statements since his car crash in late February. Among the various takeaways were that Woods was not even at the “halfway point” in his recovery from various injuries; he would “never full-time play” the PGA Tour again; and he faced a “damn-near” 50-percent chance of losing his right leg. As the 15-time major champion returns to the public eye, what is your biggest takeaway from his comments?
Nick Piastowski, senior editor (@nickpia): This quote struck me: “I’ll just have a different way of doing it and that’s OK and I’m at peace with that. I’ve made the climb enough times.” To hear a player who’s spent his entire life — not just career — climbing and climbing come to that conclusion was jarring. No one ever thought that Woods would play forever, but to have him say the ride might be over was a bit stunning.
Alan Bastable, executive editor (@alan_bastable): There were sobering elements to his remarks, to be sure, but still, let’s celebrate this moment for what is: just nine months after we saw those horrifying images of that mangled Genesis and learned of the extent of Woods’ injuries, he appears to be on the verge of strolling fairways again and hitting full-swing shots alongside his peers. Whether or not he contends on the PGA Tour again feels secondary. Tiger is back playing, period. If in February you predicted we’d be at this point in December, you had way more foresight than me.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer: Well said, Alan. But given what Tiger has been through, his physical recovery — the prospect of maybe, maybe playing a handful of events each year — is really just about the least of it. His life changed, permanently, as a result of that crash. The will he has shown to carry on as he has is both astounding and not surprising.
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): Well said. From a golf perspective there were his comments, which were sobering, and there were the subsequent on- and off-camera range sessions, which have golf fans frothing at the mouth. The truth is, Woods is further along than we thought at the beginning of the week but probably not as far along as public perception would suggest. He’s swinging it pretty well. He’s also having a hard time walking more than a short distance. Progress!
2. As the Hero progressed, Woods was spotted at various times hitting on the range, ramping all the way up to driver at one point. While, of course, only he knows for certain, when do you think we will see Woods on the PGA Tour? And, bonus question, will he team up with son Charlie at the parent-child PNC Championship in two weeks?
Bastable: Actually, I doubt even Woods knows that for certain. There’s a lonnnng way between playing a parent-child event (presumably with the aid of a cart, and, yes, I do think he’ll play) and walking a 7,500-yard PGA Tour setup for four-plus consecutive days. If you’re trying to predict which venues might suit Woods’ near-term plans, you might want to think less about a certain Alister MacKenzie design a couple hours east of Atlanta and more about flatter, more walkable courses. Looking at you, Old Course!
Bamberger: On or at? On, Riviera. Playing? The Old Course IF the weather forecast is favorable.
Piastowski: The St. Andrews prediction makes a lot of sense. When he comes back, it’s not going to be to tie for 50th, it’s going to be to win, and he would have more than a fighter’s chance at a venue where he’s won twice before. As for the PNC, he’s playing, no doubt. Charlie wants to prank JT again, so he’s dragging his pop back.
Dethier: Yes, he’ll play the PNC. Yes, he’ll play some on the PGA Tour. I think he’ll try his damnedest to beat the odds and the doctors and play the Masters, even though he won’t admit it publicly. St. Andrews still seems more realistic, but I’ve sworn off doubting Woods in any circumstance.
3. Among Woods’ comments, what was something that maybe flew under the radar that you found interesting?
Bastable: I was intrigued by the military tactics Woods said he used to help him through his recovery. Tiger’s late father, Earl, who was a Green Beret, told Tiger that he would get through firefights by “living meal to meal,” or in other words, by setting short-term survival goals. Tiger said he used the same principle in the hospital. “I would focus as much as I possibly could to get from breakfast to lunch,” he told Golf Digest. “That was a success. Then we’d regroup after lunch, run more batteries of tests, and I’d say I just need to make it to dinner. So I’d just shorten up the window. Instead of saying, ‘God, this is going to be nine months of hell, it’s just two to three hours.’” Earl’s teachings live on.
Bamberger: That he doesn’t eat potato chips. I can’t imagine a tuna fish sandwich, even if the toast is well-toasted, without the crunch that comes with some inserted potato chips.
Piastowski: That he said, on the NBC telecast on Saturday, that Collin Morikawa reminds him of “an athletic Jim Furyk.” I’ve been trying to unpack that comment for a good day now.
Bamberger: Jim Furyk was a star on his very good high school basketball team!
Dethier: I asked the question so I was particularly invested in his answer, but I found it interesting that Woods said he completely avoided coverage of the crash. “I refused to turn on the local channels and news and stuff like that, I didn’t want to go down that road. I wasn’t mentally ready for that road yet,” he said. “I didn’t want to have my mind go there yet, it wasn’t ready.” I’m always intrigued with the way famous people consume coverage of themselves. We never hear it from Woods, but this was a tiny window into his thought process.
4. Brooks Koepka, after 36 holes of the Hero, told reporters that his 2018-19 stretch, in which he won four majors, was not his peak, adding: “Just wait.” While Koepka is never bashful, do you believe him? Can he eclipse his run from a few years ago?
Bamberger: I believe that he believes it, and what else matters? Or, at the least, he semi-believes it. In any event, an entertaining and meaningless thing to say.
Bastable: Like few players from his generation, Koepka has proven he can turn it on at will at least four times a year (five when you include Vegas grudge matches), even when he’s seemingly out of form. The biggest question is whether Brooks can stay healthy enough to transcend his peers. In that regard, the last year has raised many troubling questions.
Piastowski: Yes, I believe him, but no, I don’t think he wins more than two majors in a year. That’s obviously not a knock on Brooks and more a comment on the level of play across the Tour at the moment. But I do think he’s found something in his swing — he noticed that his feet had begun to move apart more as he began to compensate for injury, and he just recently made the fix — and he’ll be in contention in not only the majors next year, but a host of other events, too.
Dethier: No, he can’t eclipse his run from a few years ago. But I do think he’ll eclipse his play the last few months. Golf is a more interesting place when Brooks Koepka is ranked better than No. 15. The jock swagger hits harder when his play backs it up. And while we’re at it, I don’t think the Match did anything to quell the real Koepka-DeChambeau animosity. An actual PGA Tour pairing with a tournament on the line would be more intriguing than ever.
5. At the Hero, Sunday’s final round took a turn for the wild, with the seemingly indestructible Collin Morikawa coughing up a five-shot lead to begin the day; Patrick Reed twice(!) hitting left-handed; Sam Burns needing five chips to reach a green; and Jordan Spieth and Henrik Stenson hitting from the wrong tee box. In the end, after starting the day six shots back, Viktor Hovland won by a stroke. Whew. From one of the more bizarre Tour Sundays in recent memory, what will most stick with you?
Bamberger: Viktor Hovland’s goofy smile after hitting that scoopy pitch into the 18th green, and getting away with a lousy one. It let him win the tournament. Given the rhythm of the summary above, it would have been more fitting for him to blade it right on over the green.
Bastable: And let’s not forget about P-Reed — two years from Bunkergate on this very course — weighing his drop options in the sand on the 72nd hole as Hovland and his caddie looked on with some degree of urgency. Hovland wasn’t asked about it after his round but love to know what, if any, impact that delay had on his blocked approach. Reed was, of course, well within his rights, but given the excellent lie he had, he seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time ultimately deciding to accept his situation and move on.
Piastowski: Morikawa. Not so much that he coughed up the large lead. More that that will stick with him for the next month. He’s shown an ability to find problems and solve them, and I’m believing he comes out better because of what happened. Which should be scary for the rest of golf.
Dethier: Sam Burns. His game can look bulletproof at times and he could do no wrong for about 13 holes on Sunday. Then he hit it greenside at the drivable 14th. Then he chipped once, twice, thrice, and so on. He still wasn’t on the green when he played his seventh shot — and then he holed it. A drive and six chips makes a seven. (It was with a putter, but still.) Hovland took it from there.
6. Lee Elder, the first Black golfer to play in the Masters, died this week at the age of 87. His impact on the game — in particular, how he broke down its barriers — was profound. “He was the first,” Tiger Woods said of Elder in 1997, soon after Woods had won his first green jacket. “He was the one I looked up to. Because of what he did, I was able to play here, which was my dream.” What most moves you about Elder’s legacy?
Bamberger: Wow. So many things, but the fact that, as a rookie Tour player, in 1968, at age 34, without any of the advantages that Jack Nicklaus had, he was able to play 76 holes on a long course (Firestone) in the same number of strokes as Jack, before losing in a playoff. In a manner of speaking, that launched Jim Thorpe’s career, just as Tiger in ‘97 at Augusta launched Tony Finau’s.
Piastowski: Woods said it well on NBC on Saturday. “For him to endure what he had to endure week in and week out, and especially that week, all the threats, moving to different homes — it was a different era and different time — for him to go out there, the courage it took for him to get out there and play and the dignity that he played with and the way he held himself throughout all these years — he was never a bitter man, very humble. We lost one of the great heroes of the game.” Thank you, Lee.
Bastable: In reading several Elder obits and tributes this week, I was reminded that his PGA Tour win in 1975 was only half the battle in terms of his breaking down the walls at Augusta. Even after Elder had secured his invite, there were many observers who did not want him playing in the Masters — and who made that clear by way of death threats. “Sometimes it was sent to the course where I was playing, sometimes it came to my house,” Elder said. Imagine trying to hit greens and hole 10-footers with that hanging over your head. Elder’s courage was awe-inspiring.
Dethier: His attitude. Elder never, ever succumbed to bitterness, despite seemingly endless opportunities to do so. It would have been easy to dismiss his role as honorary starter at last year’s Masters as too little, too late — but Elder was thrilled and touched to be there. He had only positive things to say. Golf is better off for Elder’s life.