For now, the future is unknown for Tiger


Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Posted: 5:30 p.m.

By John R. Finger

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa.Though he actually hasnt swung a golf club since May 12 or completed 18 holes in competition since he finished fourth in the Masters last April, Tiger Woods still draws a lot of attention.

Better yet, Tiger can still fill a room as well as anyone in sports.

In fact, even while recent tour winner Gary Woodland or Justin Rose, the defending champ at the AT&T National, took turns in the media room or some of the top players in the world wrapped up low-key practice rounds here at Aronimink Golf Club on Tuesday afternoon, Woods still had an Elvis-like aura around him.

As in, Tiger is on the premises.

Actually, about all he can do these days is to simply show up. As the host of the tournament that begins on Thursday morning here, Woods was much more visible than usual and caused a bit of a fuss while doing a TV interview near the clubhouse as spectators climbed over each other to steal a glimpse or a camera-phone picture of the No. 17-ranked golfer in the world.

Make that Tiger Woods, the No. 17-ranked golfer in the world, sporting a beard.

Thats what passes for news around Woods these days. Because he cant play or even swing a golf club because of a knee and Achilles injury, Woods is doing something uniquehes doing nothing. Actually, Woods is working on rehabbing his injuries with two and sometimes even three workouts a day, but he hasnt done anything with a golf club aside from putt a few. More notably, Woods says he has no idea when he will be back on the course to practice, let alone rejoin the PGA tour.

No timetable, no idea and no clue.

Im just playing it by ear right now. Theres no timetable, Woods said, dressed as he would for an outing on the links, only with the facial hair that seemed uncomfortable on an overpoweringly humid day. As I said, thats hard for me. Ive always been goal-oriented about when Im going to play, how Im going to peak, how Im going to get ready, how my practice schedule is going to be, and Im not doing it this time.

In the past Woods has played through injuries, even the ones he says hurt more than people could understand. Even in those circumstances Woods has competed and won, like he did at the 2008 U.S. Open with a broken leg. In 2007 he finished second in the Masters and the U.S. Open and won the PGA Championship with a blown out ACL.

So after skipping the U.S. Open as well as the AT&T National, it seems very unlikely that Woods will be ready for the British Open in a couple weeks, and it begs the question, what makes these injuries so different? Is it his body or his brain?

Im being smarter this time, Woods said. All the years of playing when my knee wasnt very good and playing through it, you know, unfortunately I broke my leg and still played. Thats not exactly smart. Im going to do it differently this time. I am going to come back when Im 100 percent ready, which is different for me.

Maybe thats some kind of warning shot to the rest of the golfers that they wont be facing a gimpy, battered golfer anymore. Or, maybe Woods understands that he just cant show up and win anymore. It seems as if there is a new breed of young golfers coming up through the ranks with the aim to beat Woods in a way that guys like Phil Mickelson, David Duval, Mark OMeara or Vijay Singh could not. In fact, some suggested that Rory McIlroys victory in the U.S. Open this month was the de facto passing of the torch. After all, McIlroy broke Woods record for the lowest score ever in a U.S. Open and at age 22 has not yet hit his prime.

When Woods friend OMeara suggested that McIlroy is better than Woods was at the same age, Tiger didnt argue. Actually, he agreed.

Really, he did.

I totally agree with what OMeara said, Woods conceded.

However, Woods subtly pointed out that the kid McIlroy is dealing with different circumstances. Woods won with an inferior golf swing and pre-historic equipment, and though he didnt come right out and say it that way, he didnt really have to, either.

In 97 when I was 21, granted, I had some success, but I didnt like my golf swing. Thats why I changed it, Woods said. I felt like at the same age, yeah, his swing is definitely better than mine was at the same age. But in 99 my swing came together and I had a pretty good next two years. At the same age comparatively, yeah, his swing is better. He obviously needs to continue working on it and continue getting better.

Of course its not as if Woods is approaching the twilight of his career, either. Sure, Woods is 35, but Tom Watson was 60 when he had a putt on 18 to win the 2009 British Open and Jack Nicklaus was 46 when he won the Masters. Thats the important factor, too, since Woods with his 14 major championships and Nicklaus with the record of 18 is there in the not-so distant horizon.

That is if he can get back on the course sooner rather than later.

Thats what makes it such an incredible achievement, Rose said. Not only do you have to be a great golfer, but you have to have a run of fitness. You need to have all areas of your life going for you for pretty much 20-plus years to achieve something like that.

Nicklaus was 35 when he won his 14th major title and it took him three years to get No. 15. Woods won No. 14 at age 32 and has not won in three years.

He won when he was 46, right? I still have some time, Woods said. On top of that were on the same pace, so I feel pretty confident of what my future holds and very excited about it. Im excited about coming out here and being ready to go instead of trying to kind of patch it, which Ive been for a while.

Either way, Woods is raising the level of expectations for when he returns. But then again, based on his past statistics, thats nothing new.
E-mail John R. Finger at Follow him on Twitter @JRFingerCSN.

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