‘I don’t want to come out here and just play’: Tiger Woods gives hint to return
Tiger Woods didn’t know if he would play on the PGA Tour this year. But he didn’t say he wouldn’t either. Same for the Masters. And its Par-3 Contest. And the PGA Championship, U.S. Open and Open Championship.
But toward the end of about a 45-minute interview on CBS on Saturday, nearly one year since he suffered multiple leg injuries in a car crash, Woods did give some hint about what he needs to see to return to tournament golf.
“I don’t want to come out here and just play,” Woods said when asked about the majors. “That’s how I am. I need to feel that I’m confident that I can beat these guys, and I got to do the legwork at home. It’s on me.”
In his second interview of the week at the Genesis Invitational, the first coming with reporters ahead of the tournament where he’s serving as tournament host, Woods was pressed by announcer Jim Nantz and analyst Nick Faldo for a potential schedule. They talked about where his swing stands today. They also discussed why he never won at Riviera, the Genesis host course; and about potentially dialing back equipment. At times, Woods appeared annoyed — “hey, Jimmy, slow down, turbo, slow down,” he said in response to a question on whether he would play the Masters Par-3 Contest — but he remembered, too, the road that began less than 24 hours after he left the CBS booth at last year’s Genesis.
“Oh it could have been far worse,” said Woods, echoing comments he made late last year both at the Hero World Challenge, when he made his first public appearance since the accident, and at the PNC Championship, where he played with son Charlie. “I got very lucky, and I am so thankful to all the doctors here that have put the leg back together again because I could have easily lost it. I still have my own limb, so I’m very thankful for that. I’m just really thankful for all the people and all their support and love. I mean, the amount of texts I got from the guys out here that are out on the Tour that I have become close to, or not even close to, which is the whole Tour in general — we’re a big fraternity out here and just the love and support that they gave me and the push that they gave me through all these months of rehab has been incredible.”
A sampling of some of his other comments:
Will Woods play the Masters? Maaaybe. Or maaaybe not.
At the start of the interview, Nantz asked about the state of Woods’ rehab — “I have not been running any marathons lately, none of that; I haven’t done any backflips or anything like that, no,” he said — and the conversation slowly built to his schedule for this year, and this exchange.
“Fair to say we’ll see you on the PGA Tour in 2022?” Nantz asked.
“You will see me on the PGA Tour,” Woods said. “I just don’t know when. Trust me, I’d love to tell you that I’m going to be playing next week, but I don’t know when, which is frustrating in that sense because I’ve been down this road before with my back, where I didn’t know when I was going to be able to come back. It’s hard, because it’s hard to not have goals out there. OK, I want to play this event so I can set myself up for that mentally and physically and emotionally. I don’t have any of those dates in my head. I don’t know yet.”
“Augusta, any shot that you would play the Masters this year?” Nantz asked.
“I don’t know,” Woods said.
“So it’s still a possibility?” Nantz said.
“I’ll be there Tuesday,” Woods said, referring to the Champions Dinner.
“You’ll be there Tuesday,” Nantz said.
“It’ll be a great dinner,” Woods said. “I don’t know what kind of sushi we’re going to have.”
“Wednesday is the Par-3,” Nantz said. “That is something that I would think that you would be capable of playing.”
“I can play that kind of stuff,” Woods said.
“So we’ll see you there?” Nantz said.
“Hey, Jimmy, slow down, turbo. Slow down,” Woods said.
What would be the easiest major course to walk? He ducked that one.
Besides Augusta, the season’s other majors will be played at Southern Hills (PGA), the Country Club (U.S. Open) and St. Andrews (Open Championship), and Woods was asked which, if any, would be the easiest to walk, given his condition.
“Which one’s the easiest — I think it would be St. Andrews — for you to walk? So which one is the most accommodating to you right now?” Nantz said.
“You guys are really hammering me on this, aren’t you?” Woods said.
“I’m just curious,” Nantz said.
“I understand,” Woods said. “I have a lot of work to do. And I’ve been working my butt off for the last 10 months even to get myself into this position. It’s been a tough road. I still have a long way to go. The great thing is, as I said earlier, I’m able to hit golf balls. I’m going to play in the Father-Son, play with my son, albeit in a cart. But I’m able to do that and so all in all very lucky to have this opportunity to be able to do this.
“Now what level can I attain again is the question mark. It’s not only just the walking, but it’s the practice and the gearing up that I have to do to get ready for those big events. As I alluded to in Albany, I’ll never play another full schedule again. My body will never allow me to do that. I can pick and choose to play here and there. And hopefully it will be good enough with my practice sessions at home that I’ll be able to be good enough. I don’t want to come out here and just play. That’s how I am. I need to feel that I’m confident that I can beat these guys and I got to do the legwork at home. It’s on me.”
Woods was asked about the state of his game —and it turned into whether gear should be dialed back
Denied an answer to Woods’ schedule, Nantz took a shot at the state of Woods’ game. It turned into a conversation on gear.
“Which makes me wonder, you talked about the difficulty walking right now, and that’s going to be something that you’re going to have get better at to get back to play competitively, as far as just swinging the club and ball speed, your length, you’re standing on the range and making all these preparations to return, is the power still there?” Nantz asked. “Are the speed and swing similar?”
“You saw it at the Father and Son — I can still hit it out there,” Woods said. “Not like some of these guys. You know, when they step on it, they’ve got that gear for 340 in the air. … When I first came out on Tour, you get to 300, you’re great. Then it’s 320 and now the new number with Bryson [DeChambeau] doing the things he’s doing, he can step on it and carry 340. I think kids that are at these guys’ age or younger understand how to use the ground, how to explode and how to time it up just right.
“And you all have all the technology and the clubheads and the ball and the shafts and you can marry that up and optimize your driving ability and really take advantage of driving. Because I think at the end of the day, people that drive the ball far is kind of where it’s going. You have to be able to get it out there.”
“Would you like to reign back really the driver face?” Faldo asked. “Make it more of a skill to hit the sweet spot with the driver?”
“I think it would be advantageous for the game of golf if we did that,” Woods said. “I personally don’t want to see the amateurs lose the excitement of going out there and playing long and have the forgiveness. But also just add spin to the golf ball. That’s a way to shorten it up as well.”
Why hasn’t Woods ever won at a course where he’s a host? ‘I played like crap.’
Woods’ history at Riviera is long — this year also marks the 30th anniversary of his first PGA Tour tournament, where as a 16-year-old, he played at the then-called L.A. Open. Still, the player who is tied for the most PGA Tour victories ever has never won the historic course, and Faldo asked Woods about the anomaly.
“I don’t want to be a negative, Tiger, but how come you and Jack [Nicklaus[ didn’t win here,” Faldo said.
“Well, Jack got outplayed by Hal [Sutton], and then I absolutely played like crap so, it’s very simple.”
“Technical. Technical term,” Faldo said.
“No, I love playing Riviera and I always have,” Woods said. “And the funny thing is I’ve hit it well here. I’ve just never been able to read these greens. I’ve always struggled reading them. Just that little bit of grain kind of headed down toward 6. …”