The news seemed to come out of the blue, like a 3-iron over the trees, landing on every news update and social media platform.
Tiger Woods, less than nine months removed from a near-fatal car accident, was returning to golf.
Without hitting a shot, Woods again was the story of 2021.
The Dec. 8 announcement that Woods was entering the PNC Championship to play with his son, Charlie, was thrilling, heartwarming, inspiring (pick an adjective, most of them fit).
To see Woods back on the course at all after almost losing life and limb is stunning. To have that return come alongside his 12-year-old son, who stole the show at last year’s reincarnation of the Father-Son, puts a nice, big bow on the moment.
Woods tweeted: “I’m playing as a Dad and I couldn’t be more excited and proud.”
Makes a couple hundred million of us.
“I think I can speak on everyone’s behalf when I say the sports community is thrilled to see you back on the course,” said Gary Player, who joined the Woodses in the 20-team field in Orlando on Dec. 17-18.
Woods teased us with a three-second post in late November of him hitting a shot on the range, his right leg covered with a compression sleeve that stimulates blood circulation. The Jupiter Island resident apparently hit the shot at nearby Medalist Club in Hobe Sound and simply titled it, “Making progress.”
In a life filled with comebacks, this one is by far the greatest, even if he doesn’t win another tournament.
Winning the 2008 U.S. Open with a broken leg? Nothing to it.
Returning to Hall of Fame form after embarrassing personal issues that sidelined him for part of 2009? That was so Tiger.
Winning the 2019 Masters at 43 to end a decade-long winless drought in the majors after four back surgeries. Just part of the plan.
But this comeback …
He could have borrowed his “Hello, world” line when he turned professional in 1995 and simply said, “I’m back, baby!”
Who cares if his first tournament back was a hit-and-giggle affair? What’s important is he can still hit a golf ball and giggle. None of that was certain when we first saw the wreckage of his Feb. 23 crash near Los Angeles when his car veered off a winding road.
Fans wondered if this was going to be another Kobe Bryant-like tragedy.
So did Woods.
“I’m lucky to be alive and still have a limb,” Woods said in his first comments to reporters at his Hero World Challenge.
His recovery, shrouded in the usual Tiger-like mystery that didn’t even include a release of the cause of the accident, was the golf story of 2021, rising above: Phil Mickelson becoming the oldest major champion at the PGA; several world leagues attempting to pry away some of the PGA Tour’s top stars; and the petty
Bryson DeChambeau-Brooks Koepka feud.
Without hitting a shot in a PGA Tour event, Woods was expected to receive the $10 million first prize in the Tour’s Player Inventive Program that was devised to stave off the other tour’s attacks. (The PIP announcement came after press time.)
Call it golf’s version of the Lifetime Achievement Award for the 46-year-old Woods.
He deserved it because Woods has earned billions – with a “b” – for the Tour, TV networks, tournaments, his endorsers and fellow players during his brilliance of the past 27 years.
Not a single player has said Woods doesn’t deserve the $10 million because of the way he has made them all richer. Heck, should receive the $10 million each year the rest of his life.
“… I’ve come off surgeries before, I’ve come off long layoffs and I’ve won or come close to winning before. I know the recipe for it.”Tiger Woods
But what will that like be life? That’s the big mystery.
When Woods met with reporters, he made it clear he will never be the same player again and he doesn’t expect to add to his 15 career majors, three behind Jack Nicklaus.
And Woods is fine with that.
“I don’t see that type of trend going forward for me,” he said. “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 OK. I’m at peace with that. I’ve made the climb enough times.”
Woods isn’t becoming a ceremonial golfer; call him an occasional golfer. Woods referenced the legendary Ben Hogan, who also came back from a near-deadly car crash when he was 36.
Hogan never played more than nine tournaments a year the rest of his career, but he won six of his nine majors after the accident to complete the Grand Slam and provide Woods a template.
“To ramp up for a few events a year as Mr. Hogan did, he did a pretty good job of it, and there’s no reason I can’t do that and feel ready,” Woods said.
“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 … I’ve come off surgeries before, I’ve come off long layoffs and I’ve won or come close to winning before. I know the recipe for it.”
Anyone who doubts Woods hasn’t been watching him the past 27 years. He lives off the doubters, because there is little self-doubt.
Throughout most of his career, Woods’ schedule had become as predictable as the sun, taxes and bickering on Facebook. He would start at Torrey Pines, play in the Genesis Invitational at Riviera where his foundation is the primary beneficiary, head to Bay Hill and shake Arnold’s Palmer’s hand after his eight victories, enter the Players and ramp up his game for the Masters.
Then it would include Memorial (a constant nod to Jack), the three majors, a couple of World Golf Championship events and the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Now? Who knows? That only adds to the intrigue.
We South Floridians would love for Woods to return to The Honda Classic where he can make the 20-minute commute from his mansion to PGA National. After all, how many more times can we be certain we’ll see him play in person again?
We can be certain of one thing: Woods will be at Augusta National in April to celebrate the 25-year anniversary of his landmark 12-shot victory.
One other reminder: Woods is the same age Nicklaus was when he won his sixth and final green jacket in 1986.