Tiger Woods, who Augusta National chairman Billy Payne characterized as immobile just two weeks ago, is back working on his golf game. It's nothing too significant, of course, as Woods is just doing some light chipping and putting work, according to his agent Mark Steinberg (via Bob Harig).
Woods underwent microdiscectomy surgery for a pinched nerve in his back on March 31. There was no real timetable set out for his return, we just knew in the instant that he'd be absent from the Masters. The speculative range spanned from a longshot return at the U.S. Open to potentially missing the rest of the year. Steinberg, in speaking with Harig of ESPN, reiterated that there have been no setbacks in his recovery and he's "on schedule." What that schedule is, however, we still don't know. Steinberg is just calling it a "summer" return at this point (via ESPN):
Getting past Tiger
"He's getting to the point of light chipping and putting and the doctors and trainers seem to be pleased with where he is. He is on schedule but we don't know what that schedule means. I don't know when he intends to be playing competitively.
But I expect it to be this summer. I know that's a wide range, but as the weeks go by we'll be able to pinpoint an approximate time."
Steinbeg also added that the pain Tiger was having prior to the surgery is gone and that he continues to think about the long term, so there will likely be no rushing back just to get in a start at some major tournament this summer.
Lost In the Woods
Lost In the Woods
While we now know he's no longer immobilized and pretty much pain free, we're still left with little clarity. We've heard from Tiger's good friend Notah Begay that he's likely out of the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. We've also heard reports from South America that Woods was planning to play with Matt Kuchar in a two-man event called the Americas Cup in October.
But again, even if those reports are accurate, that still leaves a huge swath of the summer up in the air. A football player who has a microdiscectomy usually needs 15 weeks before a return, and a golfer slightly less time than that. When Tiger first announced that he did have surgery and would miss the Masters, SB Nation's Emily Kay spoke with Dr. Andrew Hecht, the chief of spine surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. Dr. Hecht indicated that 90 percent of elite athletes return to the exact same level they were at before the surgery. Tiger, who's been dealing with the back issue for almost a year now, is back to doing the "light chipping and putting" work which was all he could do to prep for his last start at Doral.
A 15-week recovery period would put Tiger back right around the Open Championship, held this year at Royal Liverpool (aka Hoylake), where Woods won his last British Open when it was last held at that venue in 2006. The Open Championship, with unpredictable weather and lies that can put some strain on your back, is probably not an ideal first event to come back to. If he's being conservative about things, he may opt to skip that major championship and focus on a return at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, an event he's owned, and then play the season's final major the next week at Valhalla (also a venue where he's won).
Woods, who has made it to Sunday in just one PGA Tour event this year, is currently 200th in the FedExCup standings. If he's unable to make it back by August, he almost certainly won't qualify for the PGA Tour's postseason and then we'd be looking at a completely lost season. But as he starts to do a little work again, that doesn't seem to be much of a concern because, according to Steinberg, Tiger's "thinking about this very, very long term."