Tiger Woods' return date is no longer a mystery as the former No. 1 player in the world will return to competitive PGA Tour golf next week at the Quicken Loans National at Congressional Country Club. Woods, who only recently resumed making full swings, announced the news on his Facebook page.
After a lot of therapy I have recovered well and will be supporting my foundation next week at the Quicken Loans National. I've just started to hit full shots but it's time to take the next step. I will be a bit rusty but I want to play myself back into competitive shape. Excited for the challenge ahead.
Woods' return will come after a layoff of three months following microdiscectomy back surgery on a pinched nerve at the end of March.
The injury was just the latest setback in a spate of health issues for Tiger since his last major championship, the 2008 U.S. Open. He won that week on a broken leg and torn ACL, but has missed six major championships in the six years since that title at Torrey Pines. There have been recurring knee and Achilles problems, neck issues, and elbow injuries, but the back trouble that started to affect him most significantly at the end of last season seemed to scare Tiger the most. It totally inhibited his ability to make a swing or have any idea which way the ball was going -- something he said he could still control on the bad knee, even if it was extremely painful.
The back injury was first visible last August at the Barclays, where Tiger said the cause was sleeping on a soft hotel mattress. But by Sunday, he struggled to stand while still coming into the clubhouse with a second-place finish in New Jersey.
After an offseason with minimal golf appearances spent resting and bulking up, Woods' back problems promptly re-surfaced in just his second PGA Tour start of the year -- the Honda Classic. At that event, he withdrew on Sunday after spraying the ball all over PGA National. The next week he decided to give it a go at Doral, another venue he's owned throughout his career. But after a Saturday charge up the leaderboard to get inside the top 10, Woods grimaced his way to a career-worst round at Doral and bombed out of contention. He re-aggravated the back making a fairway bunker shot, and spent the rest of the final round at Doral barely able to bend over and pick his ball up out of the hole.
At one point, Hunter Mahan's caddie retrieved his ball from the cup and Woods repeatedly gasped in pain when trying to angle his back to set up to putt. That would be the last time we saw him, the decision to miss the Masters for the first time in his 20-year career at Augusta and opt for surgery coming just a couple weeks later.
The timeline for his return was unknown throughout most of the rehabilitation process with the ultimate decision determined by how his back was progressing. We got bits and pieces of info and mostly nebulous updates about retaining the ability to practice chipping and putting for plans on a "summer" return.
But both Tiger and his agent, Mark Steinberg, never disclosed a timetable or when, exactly, in the summer we could expect to see golf's top star. We knew the Masters and U.S. Open were out of the question, but there were rumblings that he might try and get back for the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, last held at that venue in 2006 and site of Tiger's last British win. But based on the status reports, it seemed less likely he'd be back for the season's third major and the hope for golf fans was that he'd be able to return in early August for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, where he's won eight times, and then the PGA Championship the next week in Louisville.
Even those early August dates, however, were in question and a completely missed summer and FedEx Cup seemed like a real possibility. With recent updates informing the public that he was still unable to bend over and pick up the ball, there was some thought he may not return this season at all. But he's made steady progress in recent weeks, pushing the timeline for his return up to his own tournament next week in suburban Washington, D.C. The news late on Friday afternoon came as a surprise to most of the golf world, now scrambling and turning all eyes to an event that lacked some buzz on the PGA Tour schedule crammed in between the U.S. Open and British Open.
Assuming he's able to play without any setbacks, Woods' return next week now sets him up to be back in shape for the final two majors of the year with the Open (July 17-20) and PGA Championship (Aug. 7-10) not far off on the horizon. The early return also puts him in position to qualify for the FedEx Cup, assuming he plays well enough to get back into the points race. He's also now got some time to put himself in better standing for the Ryder Cup at the end of September, a team he should make either on points or as a captain's pick unless he gets injured again.
But those fall dates are obviously secondary for the game's biggest moneymaker, whose singular focus is chasing down the major championship record of 18 held by Jack Nicklaus. Next week, he'll start that prep for the final two majors with a sooner-than-expected but welcome return to the PGA Tour.