News & Opinion

Next comes the hard part for Woods

Tiger Woods has made a career of pulling the blinds on the window to his health and personal life. On Monday, he announced that in six weeks, he’s going to allow the world to watch, comment and criticize what has to be his fragile golf game.

Woods will play in the Hero World Challenge on Nov. 30-Dec. 3, an 18-player event that benefits his foundation. Woods awarded himself one of the two sponsor’s exemptions into the event.

Only two weeks ago, he posted a video of himself hitting a driver, presumably for the first time. Now, he has an extraordinarily small window of time to prepare for competitive golf for the first time since February.

In many ways, it makes sense for Woods to return this way. The event will be played at the Albany resort in the Bahamas and will have a small, controllable gallery. No one is likely to heckle Woods in this gathering. With the small field, he can play four rounds and find out where he really stands with respect to returning to the PGA Tour sometime in 2018.

Woods played in this event last year before he missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open in late January and then, one week later, withdrew from the Dubai Desert Classic after a first-round 77. He hasn’t played since.

Even if Woods is physically ready to play golf in front of a worldwide television audience, the question that really needs to be asked is this: Will he be ready mentally and emotionally to expose his uncertain golf game on the world stage?

Forget, for the moment, about the back problems, though they are considerable. In April, he had a fusion surgery, his fourth back operation, which has kept him mostly at home ever since.

His toughest recovery could be from his arrest May 29, when police in Jupiter, Fla., found Woods on the side of the road, at 2 a.m., passed out at the wheel of his damaged car, under the influence of potent opioids and other prescription drugs (“Woods needs help, and his life might depend on it,” May 31, http://bit.ly/2rFStwz).

He subsequently shipped himself off to treatment for drug addiction at an undisclosed location. This is no small deal. Coming back from treatment leaves nerves frayed and, for most, a lingering fear of relapse, while at the same time finding a way to deal with his chronic pain. 

Woods pleaded guilty on Friday to a lesser charge of reckless driving in exchange for his participation in community service, random drug testing, DUI school and checking in regularly with a probation officer. His attorney stated in court that Woods has completed most of the requirements.

Woods believes, according to best friend Notah Begay – who said so on Golf Channel — that he’s physically fine to play. Begay said Woods followed doctor’s orders almost to the letter and that his body is strong and his back has healed. He has been playing some golf at home but, as we all know, there is casual golf and there is competition, and one has nothing to do with the other.

If Woods is human at all, he will be long on nerves and short on confidence when he returns. It should be hoped that in treatment, he learned something about having low expectations.

It’s certain that his fellow players and the golf public will not expect much. Woods’ fans – and they are legion – will be perfectly happy to see the great one, whose 79 PGA Tour victories include 14 major championships, playing golf again. Woods’ detractors doubt that he can resurrect his golf career. They believe it’s over (“Golf regroups for post-Tiger world,” Oct. 27, http://bit.ly/2yZcKhx).

At the Hero World Challenge, will he answer the media’s questions or will he continue his career-long practice of saying little and divulging even less?

Regardless of what he says – and more importantly, what he feels – this will be much more of a test of his emotional preparation than it will be about his physical condition.

In four weeks, Woods will be stripped naked in front of the world in ways he’s never experienced, even more than the scandal that he endured in the weeks and months after Thanksgiving 2009. 

How he reacts will reveal what’s inside his head and his heart – even without saying a word.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf