Tiger Woods returns to professional golf this week, and his reasons for teeing it up are profoundly few.
“I love to compete. There will come a time when I can no longer win. When that time comes, I will walk away,” Woods said Tuesday in Albany, The Bahamas as he prepares for the 2023 Hero World Challenge. “I love the camaraderie, being around the guys.”
Last seen at a competitive tournament limping through the 2023 Masters, Woods required ankle fusion surgery and another intensive rehab period to get his game to a level he felt was up to his lofty standards. He finally decided after working as the caddie for his son, Charlie, that endurance was no longer a roadblock.
“My game feels rusty,” the 15-time major champion said. “I haven’t played in a while. I’m excited to compete and play. I’m just as curious as all of you are to see what happens. I can tell you this, I don’t have any of the pain I had in Augusta in my ankle. Other parts are taking the brunt of the load. But that surgery was a success.”
The 47-year-old Woods has struggled to walk 18 holes since his February 2021 car accident that resulted in severe injuries to his right foot and leg.
But in a repeat of statements he made in his previous return to tournament golf, Woods said he wouldn’t be playing if he didn’t believe he could win.
Woods, who shares the all-time record for PGA wins with Sam Snead (82), said his ideal scenario for the 2024 season would be playing one tournament per month. He’s optimistic his body is ready for this week, but doesn’t want to make long-term decisions about his schedule without real-time gauges of his readiness starting this week.
“I was hitting golf balls a lot trying to get Charlie ready for the event and then post-event, I thought, âI can probably do this,'” Woods said.
“I’ve played a lot of holes. I haven’t used a pencil and a scorecard.”
Even if Woods’ limp is eliminated and his leg strength isn’t a worry, there are physical constraints to his game that weren’t there five or 10 years ago.
Still, Woods said there is no worry in his mind about walking 90 holes thanks to “the hardware placed in my foot,” but “my knee hurts, my back … the force has to go somewhere. It’s just up the chain.”
Woods said he faced a decision to add hardware to his ankle or replace it.
“It was bone on bone. The only way to fix that was to replace it or have it fused,” Woods said. “The next part is the hard part. The six months of doing nothing. The first couple months were really rough. … I’m here on the good side now.”
The tournament is a temporary pause in what Woods considers is most important task at hand, particularly with a deadline at the end of the calendar year for the PGA Tour and LIV Golf to mold the framework agreement into a working golf circuit that appeases players and sponsors.
Citing that deadline, Woods said he’s pleased with the new process in place with player directors on the PGA Tour board, but voiced frustration with the pace of changes he backed for shifts in “governance.”
“December 31 is coming up very quickly,” Woods said. “All the player directors have spent so many hours, worked tireless hours, to make sure that we have the best feel for all of the players that are involved. The entire PGA Tour.”
Implementation of governance should ensure a deal gets done “the right way,” he said, but reminded multiple options are available to the PGA Tour. Woods decided to become one of six player directors to “not have what transpired happen ever again,” referencing the decision by commissioner Jay Monahan to drop the framework agreement in the laps of tour membership without player input.
“We have to protect what the tour is, and do it with integrity,” Woods said, allowing he understands Rory McIlroy’s decision to step away from the player board.
He said all parties understand the deadline in place and described the full PGA Tour board as “accepting” of the player’s desire to be empowered to make decisions faster.
“We have to make sure we have access to the game,” Woods said. “We have to take care of the players. Without the players, there is no tour. Not just financially. How do we have the best competitive atmosphere week to week. What does that look like? What do they have to give up to have that?”
Woods said a “pathway back” to the PGA Tour for those who bolted for LIV Golf is part of the ongoing negotiations and has been for months. He said he has faith in Monahan and what he could do moving forward.
He said he’s confident a deal would “get done in some way” and described all parties involved as working without animosity to move forward.
“It’s murky,” Woods said of how he views golf two years from now, identifying options that include team golf, PGA and others. “What is the best solution for all parties? The best solution for all players involved.”
Woods said there are positives to be taken from the team golf aspect.
Though not yet ready to embrace being called a senior leader, Woods said he wants to be a positive force for the next generation of golfers.
“When you come out in your 20s you are young and impressionable and ask questions,” Woods said. “This is a natural progression. I’ve gained so much direction asking questions. Just to be able to pick their brains, that’s what the game is all about.
The Hero World Challenge prize purse is jumping to $4.5 million this year and $5 million in 2024. Woods’ foundation benefits from the event and he said the timing at the end of the season made it a springboard into the upcoming year.
“Whether you win or not, the game of golf definitely wins with you coming back to the course,” Dr. Pawan Munjal, executive chairman of Hero Motocorp, said. “All of us are very excited with you coming back.”
Woods said he’ll ideally be ready to outline a schedule for next season after the end of this weekend’s tournament.