Tiger Woods officially celebrated the opening of his first U.S.-based course design at Bluejack National in Texas on Monday. The festivities included Woods playing a friendly five holes with his old pal Mark O’Meara. It was the first time Woods had played any golf hole since his last start on the PGA Tour at the Wyndham Championship in August, according to multiple reports.
Woods opened the appearance with a lengthy range session, where he and O’Meara told old fun golfing stories. Then, he hit the ceremonial tee shot at Bluejack National, splitting the 10th fairway, in front of a few hundred club members, along with several members of the media.
Woods acknowledged a report last week that said he had been playing at Medalist, but he refuted it.
“I’m definitely a little tired but I feel pretty good,” Woods said in an interview with ESPN. “I haven’t been out here playing like this. I hadn’t played any holes until today. I know people have said I’ve played holes back at Medalist, but I haven’t. This is actually the first time I’ve played holes since Wyndham. It’s been awhile.
“I’m just progressing. You saw how I was going at it today, nice and smooth. That’s harder than I have been going at it the last month. Just gradually progressing. We’re just trying to progress and I’m doing that.”
Woods’ last start was at the Wyndham Championship, where he finished T10, his best finish of the 2014-15 season. Following that, he underwent two back surgeries in the span of 6 weeks. When he showed up to play hosting duties at his own tournament the Hero World Challenge in December, he gave a somber press conference and sounded like he wasn’t sure if he’d ever play competitively again. He was much more upbeat on Monday, according to ESPN.
“I would not have said I would be here like this five months ago,” he said. “I wouldn’t have thought I’d be able to do what I did here now. Or play with my kids again, things of that nature.
“It’s been a long road. To actually be able to play soccer with my kids again, to do something like this, to be able to live life … that’s what’s been nice. Five months ago I couldn’t. To be three months out of surgery and feel like that, it was tough. I still have a long ways to go. [But] I’m on the back side. I’m getting better, but I’m also getting closer to feeling better every day.”
As first reported by Golfweek on Monday, Woods registered on April 4th to play in the U.S. Open at Oakmont in June, which is a good sign — but it doesn’t mean that he’ll actually tee it up. His agent Mark Steinberg told ESPN that the move was simply “procedural.”
If you watch the videos of his swings posted on his Twitter account Monday, it’s clear Woods doesn’t look ready to return to competition. However, at least he is making progress and strides in the right direction.
RG: Taking a crack at the par-3 12th hole. pic.twitter.com/hqArUey34r
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) April 25, 2016
RG: The tee shot on the long 18th hole. pic.twitter.com/KdI9dQHi1V
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) April 25, 2016
“I’ve got to get stronger and I’ve got to get faster,” Woods said to ESPN. “I’m not hitting it very far right now. I still have a lot more to go in the tank as far as speed, which is great. I’m able to hit the ball as far as I am right now just cruising. Then trying to work on new drivers [he experimented with two on Monday], too, at the same time. That’s kind of a test.
“I know I need to hit a bunch of drivers. But I can’t hit a bunch of drivers. I’m trying to figure that out.
“I haven’t set any date to when I’m playing again, which is frustrating to say. But to be honest with you, that’s what I’ve had to do. I’ve had to go with that mindset. Would I have said that five months ago? No way. I couldn’t imagine then feeling like I do right now. Keep improving. Keep getting better. Keep making progress. And I’m doing that.”
Now, let the speculation begin as to when Woods will return to competition. The Players Championship? No way — he’s never been a fan of Sawgrass. The Memorial, where he’s won a gagillion times? Probably won’t be ready. The U.S. Open? Maybe.
Personally, I think he should take it easy and be sure of a full recovery and that he’s 100% ready before coming back. The last thing anyone wants is to see Woods hitting awful golf shots comparable to an 8-handicapper, like we were subjected to last year. Perhaps he should surprise everyone and make his return at a smaller, more low-profile tournament. Ah, only time will tell.
(Photos and videos via Tiger Woods’ Twiter)