Tiger Woods

Six burning questions entering the break

TIGER WOODS

After another lost year, what can we really expect from Tiger?

By Helen Ross

February 2nd is a few months away, but when it comes to Tiger Woods, it already feels like Groundhog Day.

Here we are again, about to enter the holiday break between the fall portion of the schedule and the new year, and we don’t know whether Tiger Woods will compete – much less contend – on a regular basis. It’s the third consecutive year an air of uncertainty surrounds his schedule.

Yes, he will be in the field at his Hero World Challenge in December, but beyond that? Who knows. In 2016, his only appearance was at the Hero. He was 15th among the 17 finishers, then made two early starts in 2017 before undergoing spinal fusion surgery that has kept him sidelined ever since.

That operation followed a series of three microdiscectomies on his chronically painful back, the first performed in the spring of 2014. Since that time, Woods has played in just 16 tournaments and the proud winner of 79 PGA TOUR titles has just one top-10.

As recently as the Presidents Cup, where Woods resurfaced as an assistant to victorious U.S. Captain Steve Stricker, he said he didn’t know what his future holds. He also said he was in “no hurry.” But in a recent – and lengthy — podcast with Geno Auriemma, Woods was decidedly upbeat, telling the UConn women’s basketball coach he feels “really good in the fact that my back’s not aching, my legs are starting to come back and my overall golf fitness is starting to come around.” Woods also said he was surprised at how far he’s hitting the ball.

The spotlight will shine brightly on him in the Bahamas. But we shouldn’t read too much into his performance – good or bad — there. He just got the OK to start hitting full shots in October, after all, and walking four rounds could be a challenge, although a healthy Woods’ fitness is never in question.

If all goes well, we’ll see a more prepared Woods teeing it up at Torrey Pines in January. But even there, where he’s won eight tournaments, Woods deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Don’t expect his schedule to vary much from previous years. He’ll be at THE PLAYERS Championship and in the majors as a past champion, regardless of what happens in 2018. That said, his world ranking, which has slipped to 1184th after he spent a record 683 weeks at No. 1, would keep him out of the World Golf Championships, where he has racked up 18 wins.

Whether Woods will be a factor when he plays in 2018 remains to be seen. He is nothing if not determined, and the 42-year-old is more focused than any competitor this side of Jack Nicklaus. For all his positive talk, though, no one can predict whether that back that has been repeatedly surgically repaired will hold up. Only time will tell.

Remember, though, as recently as 2013, Woods won five times. He has goals – Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors looms large, as does Sam Snead’s all-time TOUR win total of 83. Of the two, Snead’s mark seems more in the realm of possibility given Woods’ track record on certain PGA TOUR courses, as well as the unlikely odds of winning four majors after the age of 40.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s just let Woods play.