Tiger Woods, in what must be the quintessential “stop me if you’ve heard this before” moment, announced on Thursday that he had undergone yet another back surgery — his fourth in little more than three years, if you’re keeping score at home. He also said that, if all goes according to plan, the successful procedure will allow the world’s 788th-ranked golfer to “return to full activity in about six months.”
Uh huh. Hey, at least there’s finally a timetable for Woods’ comeback, though “full activity” does not necessarily mean the owner of 14 major championships and an almost infinite number of major injuries will be PGA Tour-ready in October — or any time in the future, for that matter.
In fact, isn’t it time to call it, Tiger? How much more abuse can your battered body withstand before you finally acknowledge— as many of your followers have — that your playing days are over?
Or, maybe the fourth time’s the charm?
Not hardly likely, if the recent history of the 41-year-old with an 80-year-old chassis is any indication.
To recap just the most immediate past, Woods returned in December from a 15-month hiatus to play in his Hero World Challenge, where he carded a boatload of birdies but finished 15th in the 18-player field. He then announced an ambitious schedule that would take him from Torrey Pines to the Middle East and back to the states for four events in five weeks leading up to the Masters in April.
The best-laid plans, eh? In early February, Woods withdrew from the Dubai Desert Classic before the second round and after carding an opening 77 and gimping around the Emirates Golf Club like the “old man” Brandel Chamblee said he resembled.
Woods pulled out of the Masters the Friday before, though he was present for the Champions Dinner two days ahead of the start of the tournament. He appeared again this past Tuesday to pitch his design company’s first public course and show off his swing, which did not go particularly well, unless splashing a wedge shot from 100 yards was on the agenda.
.@TigerWoods took a few swings during his course announcement at @BassProLegends. pic.twitter.com/loFG3p7WeS— PGA TOUR Champions (@ChampionsTour) April 18, 2017
Two days later, Woods announced that the anterior lumbar interbody fusion to relieve back and leg pain “went well.”
With that, here is an updated chronology of the boo-boos and wounds Tiger has suffered since turning pro in 1996 (his first knee surgery, in 1994, occurred during his college days):
1998: Strains back prior to Kemper Open in June.
2002: Undergoes surgery to remove fluid from around the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) of his left knee, but rebounds to win his first start a few weeks later at the 2003 Buick Invitational.
2007: Ruptures the ACL in his left knee while running but plays through the pain and wins five of his next six tournaments.
April 2008: Has arthroscopic surgery to repair cartilage in his left knee after finishing second at the Masters.
June 2008: After winning the U.S. Open (his 14th and last major title) while playing with pain in his knee and two stress fractures in his left tibia, has surgery to reconstruct the ACL and fix additional cartilage damage in his left knee. The procedure sidelines Woods for the remainder of the season.
May 2010: Woods fears a bulging disc in his neck when he withdraws from the final round of The Players Championship, but he returns to the Memorial Tournament in June after doctors determine he had an inflamed facet joint in his neck.
December 2010: Receives a cortisone shot in his right ankle to relieve lingering soreness in his Achilles.
April 2011: Woods announces that knee and Achilles tendon injuries incurred during the Masters will keep him out of the Wells Fargo Championship in May.
May 2011: A sprained MCL ligament in his left knee and strained left Achilles tendon force Woods out of The Players Championship for the second straight year as he withdraws after nine holes. Back on the sideline for three months, Woods misses the U.S. and British Opens and returns to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August.
March 2012: Withdraws from the final round at Doral with pain in his left Achilles tendon, but Tiger returns two weeks later to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
June 2013: An elbow injury that occurred at The Players flares up at the U.S. Open in June, forcing Woods out of action until the British Open a month later.
August 2013: A back spasm, which Woods blames on a soft mattress, drops Tiger to his knees during The Barclays.
March 2014: Lingering back pain and spasms cut short Woods’ Honda Classic, from which he withdraws on the 13th hole of the final round. He then grimaces throughout a final-round 78 at Doral and skips Bay Hill with lingering back pain.
April 2014: Microdiscectomy surgery in March to alleviate a pinched nerve in his back forces Woods to miss the first Masters of his career.
August 2014: After tweaking his lower back while hitting from an awkward lie in a bunker on the second hole, Woods endures continuing lower back pain that forces a WD midway through the final round at Firestone.
February 2015: Inability to activate his glutes (lower back) forces Tiger to exit the Farmers Insurance Open just 11 holes into his opening round.
September 2015: Despite regular claims that he’s healthy, and after making progress in his game at August’s Wyndham Championship where he finished T10, Tiger has a second microdiscectomy to remove a disc fragment that was pinching his nerve. Surgery forces him to miss the upcoming Frys.com Open, Bridgestone America’s Golf Cup, and Hero World Challenge.
October 2015: Woods announces he has had a successful follow-up procedure to the September surgery to “relieve discomfort” and offers no timetable for his return to competition.
April 2016: Continuing back issues force Woods to miss the Masters for the second time in three years. “I'm absolutely making progress, and I'm really happy with how far I've come, but I still have no timetable to return to competitive golf,” Tiger says on his website.
October 2016: Three days after committing to start the Safeway Open, Woods withdraws, saying his health is good but his game is not.
February 2017: Tiger looks miserable on his way to posting an opening 77 in Dubai and his agent Mark Steinberg blames back spasms for his client’s withdrawal prior to the second round. Woods later announces he will not play the Genesis Open or Honda Classic.
March 2017: Back spasms continue to nag Tiger, who skips the Arnold Palmer Invitational and announces he will miss the Masters again because his game is not “tournament ready.”
April 2017: Woods announces his fourth “successful back surgery,” this time to relieve continuing pain in his back and leg. After resting for several weeks, the plan is for Tiger to start therapy and treatment. While Dr. Richard Guyer of the Center for Disc Replacement at the Texas Back Institute, who performed the surgery, notes that “each procedure and case is unique,” patients are usually able to resume full activity in some six months. "After he recovers from surgery, he will gradually begin his rehabilitation until he is completely healed," Guyer says. "Once that's accomplished, his workouts will be geared to allowing him to return to competitive golf.”
So, where does all this pain and misery leave Tiger? As always, we have no idea, but perhaps we should believe Woods when he says it’s over, which he essentially did in his recent book on his historic 1997 Masters victory.
“A final thought: I lived in ’97 for that moment when I had to perform,” Woods concluded in The 1997 Masters: My Story (with Lorne Rubenstein). “Maybe I don’t live as much for that now, but I still crave competing. But I also realize that, physically, I can’t necessarily do what I want to do. And I know I’ll miss it when I’m done playing tournament golf. Still, I love being on my own on the range and going out in the evening to play a few holes — just me, the golf ball, and the course. Compete [Tiger’s italics], though, remains my favorite word, and probably always will.
“My parents told me it was okay for me to fail, as long as I gave it everything I had.
“I have given it everything I had.”
And then some.