“Rusty” Woods tempers expectations ahead of competitive return at the Hero

Mark McGowan
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Tiger Woods talks to the press in the Bahamas (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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Tiger Woods is set to make his first competitive start since limping off the Augusta National fairways in the weather-delayed third round of the Masters earlier this year, when he tees it up as tournament host at the Hero World Challenge in Albany, The Bahamas.

In the months following The Masters, Tiger has undergone further surgery in an attempt to address the right ankle injuries sustained in his 2021 near-fatal car crash.

But the 15-time Major champion, who famously seldom declares his intentions as anything other than securing a victory each and every time he tees it up, is not quite sure what to expect when he plays with a scorecard in his pocket this week.

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“My game feels rusty,” Woods admitted in his pre-tournament press conference. “I haven’t played in a while. I had my subtalar fused. I’m excited to compete and play and I’m just as curious as all of you are to see what happens because I haven’t done it in a while. I can tell you this, I don’t have any of the pain that I had at Augusta or pre that in my ankle. Well, other parts are taking the brunt of the load so I’m a little more sore in other areas, but the ankle’s good. So that surgery was a success.”

When the 20-man field was first announced, the presence of a ‘TBA Tournament Invitation’ in the 20th and final spot led to speculation that Tiger’s return was imminent, but the announcement didn’t officially come until 10 days ago, though, as Woods explained, the decision to play came several weeks earlier.

“As far as the commitment to playing, probably after I caddied with Charlie [his son] and was able to recover each and every day like that,” he explained. “I was still lifting and still doing a bunch of other things too alongside of that, so in conjunction with that and during part of it, all my beach walks at home, just the accumulation, how could I recover, could I keep progressing at the same time, right? I was hitting golf balls a lot, trying to get Charlie ready for the event. And then post event I started feeling, you know what, I can probably do [it], so why not?”

Then, with a mischievous grin, he added: “Talked to the committee, and a committee of one was able to give me a spot.”

The committee of one was, of course, Tiger Woods himself, who is the tournament host and his own foundation is the primary charitable beneficiary, and Woods has given himself a pairing with good friend Justin Thomas for the opening two rounds.

Woods also opened up about the wear and tear that his ankle endured over the year following his return to professional golf at the 2022 Masters, 14 months on from the accident, and admitted that the surgery was inevitable, it was just a matter of when it became necessary.

“They weren’t expecting me to put as many forces into that ankle as when I hit drivers, and so I think the doctors were surprised by that,” he explained. “And the ankle just went, it was bone on bone and that’s why you saw me limping and not feeling very good. The only way to fix that was either to get it replaced or fused, and we chose the fusion, the subtalar fusion and put hardware in there.

“The next part’s the hard part, it’s six months of doing nothing. That’s the hard part. The first couple months were really rough, but unfortunately I’ve had experience, I’ve gone through it before and I’m here on the good side now.”

With former caddie Joe LaCava now working for Patrick Cantlay, Tiger’s son Charlie was believed to be in line for a role-reversal in caddying for his father this week. But Tiger put an end to that speculation by revealing that former California Junior Golf sparring partner and longtime Woods ‘inner circle’ member Rob MacNamara would be on the bag instead. MacNamara is the vice-president of TGR Ventures and an accomplished golfer himself, though Woods admits that he is keen to see how this week progresses before making any decisions about who will be his full-time caddie should he play what he hoped would be a busier schedule in 2024.

“I’ve got Rob this week,” he said, “he’s seen me hit a few shots. As far as next year, I don’t know yet. I don’t think Charlie’s going to be able to caddie. Can’t play hooky that often. I don’t know. Honestly, I really don’t know. I was just looking forward to this week and seeing how things turned out. I’m curious to see what 72 holes looks like on the body and my game and then try and set a schedule going forward into next year.”

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