After taking an eight-month break after surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, Tiger Woods returned to competition this week at the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship, near Tucson, Ariz.
With a practice round on Tuesday afternoon and the first round of match play on Wednesday, it is anybody’s guess how Woods will perform. Will he still be the Superman of golf we have all come to expect?
It seems Woods doesn’t have any doubts. His return to competition this week isn’t just to get back into the full swing of the sport, he said. He is hitting the desert greens to win.
“That’s my intent, to go in there and win,” Woods told The New York Times. “Nothing has ever changed.”
Nothing has ever changed? What about that reconstructive surgery that took away all the strength in his knee, along with its flexibility and stamina? One weekend of walking the course may be too much for the joint, making fatigue a factor. And what will be affected the most? His short game? Long game? Both?
No, Woods has repeatedly said that his body is ready. And I am sure he knows better than any sports pundit, or even his trainer.
His body is so ready in fact that Woods said he could have returned to competition earlier, but for the birth of his son on Feb. 8.
Frankly, Woods has never been one to issue a ton of lip service. Most of time, what Woods says is what Woods means. Golfers Ernie Els, Brad Faxon and Len Mattiace have had similar knee problems, and later said they might have pushed to get back too quickly. But some athletes have proven otherwise. Hell, some football players undergo knee and return to the lineup that same season.
Mark Schlereth, now an ESPN analyst, had 29 different knee surgeries throughout his NFL career. He recently offered Woods some advice, encouraging him not to wait until he thought he was 100 percent, because no one will ever be 100 percent after surgery.
“Probably the most important thing is being able to believe and trust that that knee is going to be OK in the future and that you can get over that hurdle,” Schlereth said on ESPN.com. “Odds are you are always going to feel different, if you wait around until the point where you feel like you are 100 percent… you are going to wait yourself right out of the league or right out of your sport.”
(Granted, Schlereth’s experience on the O-line after knee surgery, complete with titanium-grade knee braces, is a very different scenario than Woods swinging a club.)
What is so interesting about all of this is: A) It’s Tiger Woods, the best golfer of all time and a man who is in the running for the best athlete of all time; and B) Woods is returning to golf, a sport where the most minor physical ailment and/or mental mishap can change your whole game, often for the worse. It’s not a sport you can just tough out with shot of painkiller. It’s mental.
One thing is for certain, Woods’s return couldn’t happen soon enough for the PGA. According to the Times, tournaments are struggling to find sponsors and television ratings have dropped through the floor during his absence. Hell, even the players are welcoming him back (even those who will likely lose any chance of winning after his return).
“We need him. Period,” golfer Rocco Mediate said. “He is the man. He is the king. He’s it. I guarantee he wins that tournament next week. Guaranteed. You think he’s coming out not 180,000 percent?”
By the end of this weekend we’ll know the answer. Is the talented Woods more than a super athlete? Is he supernatural?