The last of Tiger Woods’ 79 PGA Tour victories came in 2013. The most recent of his 14 major championships took place in 2008. He hasn’t won in 2018 – yet.
But for the greatest player of his generation, this might be his best year.
At 2 a.m. on May 29, 2017, Woods was found unconscious in his car and was arrested on suspicion of DUI 15 miles from his home in Jupiter, Fla. When the toxicology report was released, it was found that he had five drugs in his system – THC, which is the active ingredient in marijuana, painkillers Vicodin and Dilaudid, anxiety medication Xanax and Ambien, a sleep medication. All five drugs are addictive.
Only a month before, Woods had undergone his fourth back surgery, this one to fuse two vertebrae in an effort to alleviate back and leg pain. After the arrest, his career was left for dead and the quality of the rest of his life was in serious question.
After a plea deal with prosecutors, which included DUI school, community service and a workshop at which participants hear from victims of impaired drivers, Woods entered last July what he termed “an out-of-state private intensive program” for drug addiction.
In December 2017, he played in the Hero World Challenge, his first competitive start in 10 months. Since then, he has played 17 PGA Tour events, finishing in the top 6 six times, including a runner-up at the PGA Championship and a run at the British Open.
But perhaps more importantly, he apparently is finding joy in the renaissance in his game and in his life. He smiles more during competition. He seems to appreciate the adoration of – still – the biggest galleries in the game.
As a writer who covers the PGA Tour said, “He’s different. He really is.”
Anyone who has undergone treatment and recovery from addiction knows what a transformative process it is. To have powerful, life-threatening addictions lifted and kept at bay daily can’t be underestimated. Like practically every person who has experienced recovery, Woods simply is grateful to have his life back. To be able to play in his backyard with his children pain-free and out from under a very different pain of addiction, is the best he could have hoped for less than a year ago.
Golf is a bonus.
Woods will play in the Tour Championship next week for the first time since 2013. It’s a goal that many lesser players have when they begin the year. Woods took it for granted – until now.
“At the end of the season here, to say that I made it back to the Tour Championship after what I've been through is a pretty good accomplishment,” he said at the recent BMW Championship, where he tied for sixth.
“Lots of hard work and patience…,” he said. “It’s been quite a year.”
Like he always has, Woods put in the work, but patience was possibly even tougher. He is accustomed to pushing his body and his mind to maximum effort. But this year, he had to do it smarter.
“This entire year, though, it's been a moving target because my body has changed so much since the beginning of the year,” he said. “I didn't know what I could do.”
Most all of his game has returned. At age 42, he averages 303.4 yards off the tee. He is fourth in putting from 15-20 feet and in. He is 13th in scrambling. And, most notably, he is ninth on Tour in scoring. Going into the Tour Championship, he is 21st in the Official World Golf Ranking.
“The hardest part is, I didn't have any inkling of what this year might be,” he said. “Normally, if I have a good off-season or a good practice or feel healthy, I can reasonably expect what might happen the following year. This year was a complete unknown. I didn't know if I was going to play. I didn't know how many events I was going to play, what swing I was going to use. I didn't know any of these things. And a lot of adjustments on the fly.”
Woods has made changes to his equipment to fit his new swing. He has returned to his old faithful Scotty Cameron putter after some brief experimentation. Best of all, he knows his limitations.
“This has been one of my best years, considering that I didn't know what I was going to do,” Woods aid. “I just didn't have a clue. And the fact that I've been able to make it this far is very exciting to me. At this point last year, that wasn't the case. [I] didn't know. But now I know that I sort of have a bright future.”
Golf is not life, and life is not golf. Woods has had both given back to him, and more importantly, they look so much different than they once did. Practically nothing is sweeter than redemption.
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: email@example.com; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf