Tiger Woods’ comeback still carries hope

Doug Ferguson
Associated Press

Tiger Woods still has more majors than comebacks.

But the gap is narrowing.

Woods said he will return to competition at the Hero World Challenge the week after Thanksgiving — an 18-man field in the Bahamas with no cut — just over seven months after fusion surgery. That was his fourth back surgery in a little more than two years, and that alone should be enough to temper expectations.

This will be the 10th time Woods has returned from an unscheduled break of two months or more, eight of them since winning his 14th major at Torrey Pines in the 2008 U.S. Open. And it will be the fifth time he returns since his last victory in August 2013 at the Bridgestone Invitational.

Should it be cause for celebration?

Of course.

A popular phrase in recent years is golf needs Woods, but this is only true as it relates to his performance. Otherwise, it becomes a nostalgia tour, and the question facing Woods is whether he can handle being a ceremonial golfer. If that’s what this is about, there would be no need for him to play.

This will be the second straight year Woods makes a celebrated comeback from back surgery in the Bahamas.

He had gone 15 months and two microdiscectomy surgeries when he played the Hero World Challenge last year and finished 15th against a field of 18 (Justin Rose withdrew after the opening round with back pain). Woods made 24 birdies that week but finished at 4-under par and was 14 shots behind the winner, Hideki Matsuyama.

He was held to a different standard. He was measured by the freedom of his swing more than his score in relation to the field. That began to change when he missed the cut at Torrey Pines in his first start against a full field, and then flew across eight time zones to Dubai and lasted one round — a 77 — before withdrawing the next day because of back spasms.

Different about this return is the nature of the surgery, which carried a higher risk and was geared more toward his quality of life.

Golf is a bonus.

Woods made headlines at the Presidents Cup during a news conference for assistant captains when he was asked if he could see a scenario where he would not return to competition. “Yeah, definitely,” he responded. “I don’t know what my future holds for me. As I’ve told you guys, I’m hitting 60-yard shots.”

It was a leading question that was more about the uncertainty of his health than his desire to play, and the outlook changed quickly.

Within a week, he posted a slow-motion video of a full swing. Then another one of Woods hitting driver, a third video hitting a stinger with a long iron, and news amid this tease doctors had cleared him to play and practice without restrictions.

So what next?

Woods turns 42 at the end of the year and he has gone through eight surgeries — four on his left knee, four on his back.

But his fifth comeback since 2014 still resonates with hope.