At the 2013 Barclays tournament Tiger Woods hit a shot that caused him to fall to his knees in pain. The hopes of many of Woods’ fans yearning to see him break Jack Nicklaus’ record for the most major championships were fading.
But Woods’ followers can now breathe a sigh of relief because pro golf’s biggest icon is back on pace.
After struggling through the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship in March, Woods announced that he would undergo back surgery. Woods pinched a nerve in his spine, limiting the rotation needed to perform a proper golf swing.
The procedure removed fragments of a spinal disk that was putting pressure on the pinched nerve. While the surgery was minimally invasive, the recovery from the incision kept Woods out of the Masters tournament and the U.S. Open.
Woods’ road to Nicklaus’ record was all but paved in his early years, but now a long and difficult path lies before him. Woods was finally back in action this past week at his own host tournament — the Quicken Loans National (formerly the AT&T National) at Congressional Country Club — where he missed the cut line by four shots.
He may have come back a bit early having not practiced much since his recovery. Woods’ new tournament sponsor Quicken Loans may have had an impact on his decision to play competitively rather than use the week to practice.
Woods was optimistic about his performance over the 36 holes. It can be hard to understand how he can be happy after missing the half-way cut at a PGA event for only the 10th time in his career, but he is showing something not seen in a while — confidence.
Anyone who has played golf knows that the longer you go without playing, the rustier you are when you pick up your clubs again. But a world-class golfer like Woods will be able to knock off that rust quickly.
Woods has decided not to enter any more professional events until the British Open on July 17 to 20, opting to sit out for the Greenbrier Classic and the John Deere Classic. Woods will probably take the time to sharpen his game and work on the technical aspects of his swing.
The British Open will be held at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club, the same venue that hosted the tournament in 2006 where “Tiger Woods” was last engraved on the Claret Jug, the trophy awarded to the tournament’s champion.
Having not won a major since 2008 and having missed the last two major tournaments entirely, Woods is not the favorite. But he is not out of range of his larger goal. Woods needs only four more wins to match Nicklaus’ record of 18.
Nicklaus won his last major title at the age of 46, and Woods had his 38th birthday on Dec. 30 with 14 major championships in hand. Many don’t realize that Nicklaus also had 14 major titles on his 38th birthday.
Win or lose, Woods’ return is a valuable asset to professional golf. The ratings for the Masters’ and the U.S. Open’s weekend coverage this year was close to half of what it was when Woods was on the course.
Woods’ play is constantly scrutinized, as evidenced by a penalty enforced on Woods at the 2013 Masters after a viewer called in to alert officials of a misplaced drop. However, Woods, when healthy, is the type of player to thrive under such pressure.
Tiger Woods is facing a finish to his career that will make or break his legacy. The next few years will determine whether he is the best to ever play the game or a young phenom who faded out too early.
Joe Mallette is a 26-year-old mass communication freshman from Lake Charles, La.