Tiger Woods, if recent history is any indication, could show up at the Masters in seven weeks and take his first competitive whack at a golf ball since the Wyndham Championship last August.
On the other hand, if you’re inclined to believe anonymous sources, Woods has suffered a significant relapse in his recovery from back surgery that has left him barely able to sit, let alone traipse up and down the hills and vales of Augusta National. Indeed, veteran Tiger-watcher and former FOX Sports golf writer Robert Lusetich, along with the far more unsubstantiated source that is whoever tweets for the "Secret Tour Pro," provided similar-sounding updates in the last few days. Both stated the condition of the 14-time major winner had worsened so drastically since the golf world heard from him three months ago that he may never make it back to the PGA Tour.
I'm told #TigerWoods condition worsened. He can't move well; painful to sit. Sits in car with seat fully reclined. No forseeable return. Sad— Robert Lusetich (@RobertLusetich) February 22, 2016
Woods’ camp -- via his agent Mark Steinberg -- sought to quell the hysteria by calling such dispatches "ridiculous and absolutely false." Steinberg issued the prompt denial to several outlets:
"The tweets that appeared this weekend about Tiger's health are ridiculous and absolutely false. It's reprehensible that every few months someone makes something up and it's treated like a real story. Tiger continues to work on his rehabilitation and we will have an accurate update at the appropriate time.''
While any of the above scenarios is possible, the truth probably lies somewhere between this:
… and this:
February 8, 2016
With Woods opting not to join Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson and the other heavy hitters at this week’s Honda Classic -- which is practically in his Jupiter, Fla., backyard -- it seemed as good a time as any to check in on the world’s 445th-ranked player. That is what ESPN.com did on Friday, reporting that Steinberg "had no update to offer on Woods' recovery, rehabilitation schedule or much less any potential tournament starts."
Woods finished T10 at the Wyndham and seemed to have worked his way back into form after undergoing a microdiscectomy in March 2014 and subsequently overcoming a bad case of the chipping yips. So it was a shocker to learn that he had a second back operation in September "to remove a disk fragment" and a "successful follow-up procedure" the following month.
As he neared his 40th birthday, and with speculation mounting that retirement was near, Woods announced at his Hero World Challenge in December that, "contrary to reports," he had no plans to call it a career. He also conceded there was "no timetable" for his return to the circuit or even for his ability to swing a club. In fact, all Woods could do then was walk, and not very far.
Three weeks later, Woods, appointed a vice captain for the 2016 U.S. Ryder Cup team, said he hoped to play his way on to the squad. He also said that in the next five to 10 years he expected still to be "playing golf at the highest level and winning tournaments and major championships."
In the meantime, Woods’ caddie Joe LaCava said a couple weeks ago that he had spurned requests from other players offering him part-time gigs, saying he would bide his time until his boss returned to action.
"My plan is to wait for Tiger to get back. I've told them I just want to work for Tiger and nobody else at this point. They were all nice about it. They didn't know what my situation was. I've elected to wait things out with Tiger and that is my plan going forward," LaCava told ESPN's Bob Harig.
Count LaCava as one Woods stalwart who believes the winner of 79 tour events has a few more in him.
"I still have faith he's going to continue to do well and win. My thought is he will overcome the injury or whatever you want to call it. He might not be able to play as often as he would like," he said. "Once he's healed from this, he'll come back and play again and play well. My outlook is basically the same as when I started with him. He's Tiger Woods.’’
So here we are, nearly three months after last hearing from Woods, rumors are flying again and once more Steiny is the designated mouthpiece for Team Tiger. The rumblings from "Secret Tour Pro" ignited the story on Sunday and the report from Lusetich, author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger’s Most Tumultuous Season, a day later brought Tiger's agent out with the denial.
About 90-95% of microdiscectomies - like #Tiger had - are successful.— Robert Lusetich (@RobertLusetich) February 22, 2016
He got unlucky.
Not to say career's over, but no imminent return.
Lusetich, citing "a very reliable source," elucidated on The Dan Patrick Show.
Tiger, after suffering "quite a setback," found it "very difficult … to walk," Lusetich said. "There’s a lot of pain, sitting is painful, if he rides in a car he sits in the passenger seat and he has to fully recline the seat to avoid pain. So it’s obviously not a good scenario.
"He was hoping to come back originally for the Masters. I think that’s a pipe dream," Lusetich added. "Then he was pushing it back into May but who knows? It certainly doesn't sound good.
"I’m not declaring that his career is over and he’ll never play golf again," he stated, "but this is not good news for anyone who is a Tiger Woods fan or is a golf fan."
So Steinberg, who has earned a reputation for being less than totally forthright about his superstar client, quickly refuted the claims made by STP and Lusetich. Until next time, then, on This Week in Tiger Woods ...
* * *
SB Nation Video Archives: Luke Thomas on the end of Tiger Woods' career