Tiger Woods Discusses Return to Golf, Sport’s ‘Murky’ Future

REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo
The Masters – Augusta National Golf Club – Augusta, Georgia, U.S. – April 8, 2023 Tiger Woods of the U.S. reacts on the 18th green during the second round

Tiger Woods on Tuesday described his golf game as “rusty” entering this week’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, his first tournament since his third-round withdrawal from the Masters in April and subsequent ankle surgery.

“I haven’t played in a while,” Woods told reporters at a pre-tournament news conference. “I’m excited to compete and play and I’m just as curious as you are to see what happens, because I haven’t done it in a while. And I can tell you this: I don’t have any of the pain that I had at Augusta in my ankle. Other parts are taking the brunt of the load, so I’m a little sore in other areas. But the ankle’s good, so that surgery was a success.”

Woods has played in only five tournaments since suffering severe injuries to his right leg in a February 2021 car crash. He had surgery to fuse his right ankle in April, soon after he withdrew from the Masters.

Woods also talked Tuesday about his and other players’ frustration over their exclusion from discussions between the PGA Tour and Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), which announced the framework of a partnership in June. In response to player discontent, the PGA Tour added Woods to its influential policy board on Aug. 1, ensuring that golfers would no longer be outnumbered on the 12-member board.

“I would say that my reaction was surprised, just like I’m sure a lot of the players were taken aback by how it happened so quickly and without any input or any kind of information about it. It was just thrown out there, and I was very surprised that the process was what it was. We were very frustrated with what happened,” Woods said when asked how he felt about the June announcement. “We took steps going forward to ensure we were not going to be left out of the process like we were, part of the process being putting me on the board and accepting that position.”

“I was frustrated that the players were never involved,” Woods said later. “This is our tour. We were all taken aback by it, it all happened so quickly without our involvement. That can’t happen again.”

The PGA Tour and PIF have set a Dec. 31 deadline to finalize their agreement, though there is pessimism that the two sides will hammer things out by then. The PGA Tour also is talking with private equity firms about funding for a new for-profit venture that would include the European tour and PIF, further complicating any predictions about what the sport will look like in coming years.

“I’m pleased at the process and how it’s evolved, but also frustrated in the slowness of the governance change that we want to have happen,” Woods said. “December 31st is coming up very quickly, so there’s a timetable there that we would like to implement some of these changes that have not taken place. All the player directors have worked tireless hours to make sure we have the best deal for all the players that are involved.”

Woods described the sport’s future as “murky.”

“There’s a lot of moving parts out there about how we could play, whether it’s here on the PGA Tour or merging or team golf, there’s a lot of different aspects that are being thrown out there all at once, and we’re trying to figure all of that out,” he said. “What is the best solution for all of the parties and what is the best solution for all the players that are involved?”

Woods said Tuesday he felt he could play competitively again after caddying for his son, Charlie, at the 54-hole Junior Golf National Championship earlier this month.

“Post-event, I started feeling, ‘You know what, I can probably do this, so why not?’ ” Woods said. Woods’s charitable foundation operates the Hero World Challenge, and he joked that the “committee of one” found a spot for him in the small-field event featuring a number of the world’s top golfers.

As far as his playing schedule next year, Woods said playing one tournament a month would be “realistic” and that this week’s tournament would be “a big step in that direction.”

“I love competing, I love playing,” he said. “I miss being out here with the guys, I miss the camaraderie and the fraternity-like atmosphere out here and all our banter. But what drives me is I like to compete. There will come a point in time – I haven’t come around to it fully yet – that I won’t be able to win again. When that day comes, I want to say that I’ll run away, but I’ll walk away.”

Near the end of Tuesday’s news conference, Woods was asked if he thought he could still win.

“Absolutely,” he said.