Tiger Woods made it official on Monday morning, announcing in a post on his website that he would not be able to defend his PLAYERS Championship title at TPC Sawgrass this week. That came as no surprise -- while we don't know the official timeline for his return, we knew he wasn't going to be in attendance at this early May event that many like to call the season's "fifth major."
Tiger's agent, Mark Steinberg, told ESPN's Bob Harig two weeks ago that his client was back chipping and putting but was still not taking full swings following his late March back surgery for a pinched nerve. Tiger reiterated that point in his post on Monday, writing that he's walking, cycling and now swimming but still not doing much work with a golf club outside of those putts and chips on the green. And on the return date, we got much of the same refrain of uncertainty:
As for my return to golf, I really don't know. I'm doing everything I can and listening to my doctors and working on a strength program, and then we just have to see how my back is. Some people heal up in three months, some people take four months, some people take longer. I just don't know.
We had heard that Tiger was pain-free, but he did write that he's still sore from the incision made during the microdiscectomy surgery. Woods said he'll talk to coach Sean Foley about a swing change that might put less stress on the back. There had been rumors Tiger had split from Foley, so dropping the coach's name was a notable and probably deliberate part of the post. He did say he's been talking a lot with Tony Romo, who had that same procedure at the conclusion of the NFL season. Romo is a scratch golfer, typically plays in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and has been friendly with Woods before they shared this similar injury. And Twitter jokes were made everywhere upon the mention of the Cowboys QB.
The announcement was a bit uncharacteristic for Tiger's site, which usually just publishes terse releases on his schedule. In this post, Woods went into a variety of topics, including updates on his kids and Lindsey Vonn, but also what it was like to watch the Masters from home for the first time since 1994. It appears a first missed Masters wasn't terribly difficult on the world No. 1:
Not being able to play in the Masters for the first time wasn't as hard for me as you might think. I've missed major championships before, so this was not a new experience. It helps when I'm physically unable to play the game. That's when it's easy for me, and I don't have a problem watching. It's when I'm playing and closer to getting back out there is when I start getting real antsy about watching events: 'Can I play, can I not play?' But when I'm physically unable to play like in 2008 after my knee surgery, it makes things so much easier.
I guess Tiger takes a certain mental comfort in not being able to physically make a swing, as opposed to that half-measured and hobbled approach we saw prior to the decision to have surgery.
Woods said he watched the Masters when his friend Fred Couples started to make an early run on Sunday, but then tuned out as the 54-year-old started to fade later in the final round. While discussing the Masters, he did offer a bit of commentary on Bubba Watson's success, breaking down the ways Augusta now favors a lefty, specifically Bubba and Phil Mickelson, who hits those bombing fades off the tee (more here on how Bubba and Phil can carve up Augusta for years to come). He cited the advantages at 10, 13 and 14 at Augusta and it's clear he's aware Bubba is going to be his biggest challenger to getting a fifth green jacket down the line.
The analysis on the left-handed advantage at Augusta was probably the most interesting part of the post -- even if the larger purpose was to let us know he won't be at TPC Sawgrass and that this "slow process" has not abetted a definitive return date. Woods maintained the line that he hopes to be back "sometime this summer" and the thinking continues to be that he'll target the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool in mid-July. The sooner the better for the the PGA Tour, which continues to struggle without its marquee star. That will be evident at its crown jewel tournament at TPC Sawgrass this week.