Woods warns competitive return ‘long way off’: Tiger Woods is looking forward to his first competitive rounds since suffering career-threatening leg injuries in a February car crash, but he said Friday the PNC Championship family tournament is no gauge of his readiness for the PGA Tour.
“I still have a long way to go in this rehab process,” said the 15-time major champion, who suffered compound fractures in his right leg after the car he was driving in a Los Angeles suburb veered off the road and flipped several times.
“I don’t have the endurance to be out here to play at the tour level.
“This is different,” he said after playing a pre-tournament pro-am round on Friday. “I can hit around here, drop a ball here, hit a few wedges, do that.
“But to go out there and have 220 yards and know that you have to hit a 3- or 4-iron and miss the ball in the correct spot, and then hit certain shots and one stroke determines whether you win or lose, that’s a totally different mindset than what we have out here this week. I’m not there yet.”
But Woods is up for a second straight appearance in the event alongside 12-year-old son Charlie, something that wasn’t on his radar as he spent three months in bed after his accident.
“Just the fact that I’m able to play and have this experience with him and watch him, watch him hit shots or encourage him to hit shots,” Woods said of the value of the week.
“One thing I can do, I can think my way around the golf course. I may not be able to execute it, but I can help strategize some of his shots, where to hit it, how to hit it, things of that nature, and make sure that he’s in his little bubble and he’s having fun.”
Woods, who returned from 2017 spinal fusion surgery to win his fifth Masters’s title, and 15th major crown, in 2019, said this injury rehabilitation has been the hardest of many in his career.
When he was finally up and about, Woods said Friday, there wasn’t a day when he didn’t work on something.
“Even days where I didn’t feel very good, we worked on something,” he said.
As he works to regain swing speed and generate length, Woods said even walking an entire round would be beyond him right now. For this event, he can use a cart.
“My leg is not quite right yet and it’s going to take time,” he said.
That won’t stop fans and pundits from parsing every aspect of his game, wondering if he might be able to resume his pursuit of the more major championships — possibly even Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 — as soon as next year.
They’ll get another look, too, at Charlie, who displayed a sweet swing eerily similar to his father’s last year, as well as a classic Woods fist-pump and club twirl.
Woods said he wasn’t consciously imparting either the game or the mannerisms.
“I’m his father, I’m not his coach,” Woods said. “And so if he wants to learn about the game of golf, he’ll ask. I’m there as a sounding board.”
Despite his current limitations, there’s still no doubt that for the hyper-competitive Woods his family bonding would be brightened by a victory over world number six Justin Thomas and his father Mike, who won the event last year.
“We are extremely close with the family and we do a lot of things together,” Woods said of the Thomases, their neighbors in Florida.
That included a Christmas visit at Woods’s house last year, where the Thomases wore the belts they were awarded for their PNC Championship win.
“You know, we don’t want them wearing that belt again, so we are going to give it our best,” Woods said. “Christmas dinner wasn’t quite as pleasurable last year as it hopefully will be this year.”