Can surgically-repaired Tiger Woods walk 72 holes? He sounds bullish

Tiger Woods walks at the Masters.

Tiger Woods

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Throughout Tiger Woods’ many comebacks, and specifically the ones following his February 2021 car crash, the 15-time major winner has remained steadfast in his belief that he can win again at golf’s highest levels.

This week — at his own Hero World Challenge — is no exception.

“So,” he was asked by a reporter Tuesday in the Bahamas, “you being here assumes you think you can still win?

“Absolutely,” Woods replied ahead of his star-studded 20-man exhibition where, for the first time in three years, he’ll be one of the stars playing.

With that kind of certainty, it’s easy to forget that the last time we saw Woods in competition, it was painful. Both for him and golf fans.

Woods hasn’t played since withdrawing midway through a soggy and delayed third round of the Masters. He made his fourth cut there in five events since returning from a devastating crash that nearly cost him his right leg. But for the third time he failed to complete 72 holes.

The last scenes of him before he withdrew that day weren’t pretty. One of the greatest athletes of his generation, if not of all time, could barely walk.

Nearly eight months and at least one surgery later, Woods says walking 72 holes over four consecutive days — which he has done only twice since the 2020 Masters — isn’t a worry anymore.

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“I’m not concerned at all about walking it,” Woods said, echoing what he told the Associated Press earlier this month. “It’s more, as I said, I don’t have any of the ankle pain that I had with the hardware that’s been placed in my foot, that’s all gone.”

Woods was asked 10 different questions relating to his health during his press conference Tuesday, his first since undergoing a subtalar fusion surgery on his right ankle in the days following his Masters WD.

That surgery, Woods said, needed to happen at some point, but his return to competitive golf in 2022 and early 2023 pushed up the procedure earlier than expected.

“They weren’t expecting me to put as many forces into that ankle as when I hit drivers, and so I think the doctors were surprised by that,” Woods said. “And the ankle just went, it was bone on bone and that’s why you saw me limping and not feeling very good. The only way to fix that was either to get it replaced or fused, and we chose the fusion, the subtalar fusion and put hardware in there.”

With Woods now claiming a best-case scenario of playing one tournament a month moving forward, potentially more than doubling the number of events he’s played the last two years, safe to say he painted an optimistic picture. He added he’s “on the good side” of his recovery.

Woods said he only became sure he could play this week after he tested his ankle by caddying 54 holes for his son, Charlie, last month at a junior golf tournament in Florida.

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“[I] was able to recover each and every day like that,” he said. “I was still lifting and still doing a bunch of other things too alongside of that, so in conjunction with that and during part of it, all my beach walks at home, just the accumulation, how could I recover, could I keep progressing at the same time, right? I was hitting golf balls a lot, trying to get Charlie ready for the event.

“And then post-event I started feeling, you know what, I can probably do, so why not?”

This week, though, will still be a huge test for Woods. We’ve seen previously just how fragile his health can be. He committed to the Hero in similar fashion last year, waiting until a few weeks before the event to add himself to the field, before withdrawing on Monday of tournament week because of plantar fasciitis.

Woods even admitted that he hasn’t tested his scoring ability very much in his ramp-up to this week.

“I’ve played a lot of holes, but I haven’t, you know, I haven’t used a pencil and scorecard,” Woods said. “Now, you put a pencil to paper and it really counts, it’s a little bit different story. So I’m very curious about that as well.”

Just like the rest of the golf world.

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