Excerpts from tournament host Tiger Woods‘ media interaction ahead of this week’s Hero World Challenge
Tiger, it’s great to see you looking healthy. Seems like the recovery is progressing nicely. Can you share what it means for you to be back here hosting at Albany, after a year off last year?
Tiger Woods: It’s been a long 22 months for all of us, not being able to play last
year, we completely understand the reasons why with the pandemic, trying to keep everyone safe and it was the right call, but it’s exciting to have it this week. This is our sixth time here, seventh time with Hero MotoCorp, so we’re excited about that and our future with them.
Look at the field this year, strongest we’ve ever had. It’s been — it’s incredible. The players
that have shown up, I think there’s eight new players this week that are being introduced to this format and this event. A lot of the players who were — who have been first-timers that have come from this event have started knew charities or new foundations from what they’ve learned here at this event, so we’re very proud of that.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) November 30, 2021
Hero has served as a place where you’ve staged comebacks before or a comeback from injuries, surgeries, various different things. I’m just wondering this year how different you feel compared to coming back from other surgeries or injuries in the past?
Tiger: Well, I’ve hosted this event, unfortunately not as a player in the field. This
year is one of them. Yeah, it will be fun watching the guys come here and play and tee it up and be out there. I miss, because I’ve been away from the game for — call it the entire year. I missed the jabbing, the needling and how’s everyone doing. There’s only so much you can do via text and phone calls. A lot happens and we get caught up a lot out here on Tour in locker rooms and having dinners and off-site stuff like that. To be able to catch up with the guys this week, it will be fun. I haven’t seen the majority of them since February. Some have come over to the house, most of them have texted me over that period of time, but I haven’t physically seen a lot of them, so it will be nice to catch up.
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You’ve been down this road before in recovery. How much more difficult has this
Tiger: Yeah, this one’s been much more difficult. Either — the knee stuff that I
had on my left knee, those operations were one thing, that’s one level. Then you add the
back, that’s another level. And then with this right leg, that was — it’s hard to explain how
difficult it has been just to be immobile for the three months, just lay there and I was just
looking forward to getting outside. That was a goal of mine. Especially for a person who
has lived his entire life outside, that was the goal. Finally got to that point when transitioned from wheelchair to crutches to now nothing. It’s been a lot of hard work.
Is it too early to have a target tournament to zero in on like the PNC or Augusta or The Open?
Tiger: I’ll put it to you this way: As far as playing at the Tour level, I don’t know
when that’s going to happen. Now, I’ll play a round here or there, a little hit and giggle, I can do something like that. I certainly like — you know, the USGA suggested Play It Forward. I really like that idea now. I don’t like the tees on the back. I like Play It Forward. Come on, let’s move it up, let’s move it up. To see some of my shots fall out of the sky a lot shorter than they used to is a little eye-opening, but at least I’m able to do it again. That’s something that for a while there it didn’t look like I was going to. Now I’m able to participate in the sport of golf, now to what level, I do not know that. I’ll keep you abreast, all of you abreast as progress continues to go on, whether I’ll be out here and at what level and when.
Can you speak about what some of the most difficult moments were in these last 10 or 11 months for you? You skimmed on it a little bit, but what were some of the times that were most difficult?
Tiger: I think just laying there, laying still. I was in the hospital for only three
weeks. I was in a hospital bed for three months. That in itself is difficult. Being assisted
everywhere I go, not being able to move anywhere. As I said, just looking forward to just
getting outside. You know, eventually I got to a point where they could wheelchair me
outside safely and I could feel the sun, that was like a milestone, you know. It’s little things
like that that added up.
As a whole, it’s been tough at times, yes, some dark moments, but then again, as I was
making progress through it, too, I could see some light and that was giving me hope. I’m
able to participate more with my kids and their activities and more just in life in general.
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Spinal fusion surgery, you needed to climb Mount Everest again, and you said you don’t really, you might not have the body to do that. What has that shift been like for you mentally and personally?
Tiger: Well, I’ve made the climb up there a few times and I’ve had a pretty good run in my career. I just knew that once I came back from the spinal fusion surgery, I still had my hands. The only thing that was holding it back was my back, and once I realized that
was good and it was solid, I wasn’t going to have the zinging down my leg, I wasn’t going to have the drop foot anymore, I wasn’t going to have any of those issues, okay. Well, can I make a swing? Yes. Oh, I have power. Didn’t think I’d have power.
All of a sudden I would play at home and I would shoot scores, not the 77s and the
78s, and they were in the mid 60s without really trying. Like okay, this is new, let’s
see if we can push this a little bit further. So I came back here in 2017 and played in the Hero event and took full advantage of all the players in the field and their world ranking points because I was 1,299 at the time. Was able to climb in the world rankings because of that.
Then I started back in ’18 and started playing a little bit more and I started building. Once I started building, I realized after Tampa that I could win, okay? Then I proved to myself that I could take the lead in the British Open. Okay. Well, I could close. Even though I did not win, I closed pretty good at the PGA at Bellerive, and then ’19 I won the Masters. Well, I don’t see that type of trend going forward for me. I won’t have the opportunity to practice
given the condition of my leg and build up. I just don’t. I’ll just have a different way of doing it and that’s okay and I’m at peace with that, I’ve made the climb enough times.
You’ve spoken again there about your career being different and being reduced and probably curtailed. Is that easy for you to compute in your mind or is it difficult that you’re going to be stopped or held back?
Tiger: No, it’s very easy, given the fact that I was able to come back after the
fusion surgery and do what I did. I got that — I got that last Major and I ticked off two more events along the way. I don’t foresee this leg ever being what it used to be, hence I’ll never have the back what it used to be, and clock’s ticking. I’m getting older, I’m not getting any younger. All that combined means that a full schedule and a full practice schedule and the recovery that it would take to do that, no, I don’t have any desire to do that. But to ramp up for a few events a year as I alluded to yesterday as Mr. Hogan did, he did a pretty good job of it, and there’s no reason that I can’t do that and feel ready. I may not be tournament sharp in the sense I haven’t played tournaments, but I think if you practice correctly and you do it correctly, that I’ve come off surgeries before, I’ve come off long layoffs and I’ve won or come close to winning before. So I know the recipe for it, I’ve just got to get to a point where I feel comfortable enough where I can do that again.
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Tiger, I know you said earlier that it’s difficult to put a timeline on a return, but an event like the 150th Open at St. Andrews next year given your history with the Open, how much is that an event you would like to be ready for?
Tiger: Yeah, I would love to play at St. Andrews, there’s no doubt about it. It’s
my favorite golf course in the world. To be a two-time Open champion there, just being a
part of the champions dinner is really neat. From my first one in ’05 I got to attend a
champions dinner, it was pretty neat to be a part of. Peter Thomson was still alive, and I sat right next to him and to hear him tell stories of when he came over and he played and shots he played and how he did it, that was awesome.
Those are things like at the Masters, those dinners are priceless and those stories and listen to them talk about how they played, when they played it and what they did, it’s just an honor to be a part of a room like that. Yes, I would love to be able to play that Open Championship, there’s no doubt about it. Physically, hopefully I can. I’ve got to get there first. Tournament’s not going to go anywhere, but I need to get there.