Tiger Woods refused to put a timetable on his return to tournament golf on Tuesday in his first public appearance since a serious car crash earlier this year that left him “lucky to be alive”.
Speaking to reporters in the Bahamas ahead of the Hero World Challenge, Woods said he would never regain full strength in his right leg, which was left shattered after the crash in Los Angeles in February.
Woods, 45, told Golf Digest in an interview on Monday his days as a full-time professional golfer were over, saying that he would pick and choose tournaments from now on.
On Tuesday, the 15-time major winner gave no indication of when he expected to be fit enough to play a full 72-hole professional event, repeatedly emphasizing that his recovery was ongoing and that he still felt pain in his back and leg.
“As far as playing at the tour level, I don’t know when that’s going to happen,” Woods said.
“Now, I’ll play a round here or there, a little hit and giggle, I can do something like that,” Woods said.
Woods reiterated that he expects his post-accident career to mirror that of golfing great Ben Hogan, who was badly injured in a 1949 accident.
Hogan, who won 64 PGA Tour events and nine majors, never played more than nine tournaments in a season following the accident.
“I don’t foresee this leg ever being what it used to be, hence I’ll never have the back what it used to be, and clock’s ticking. I’m getting older, I’m not getting any younger,” Woods said.
“All that combined means a full schedule and a full practice schedule and the recovery that would take to do that. I don’t have any desire to do that.
“But to ramp it up for a few events a year as Mr Hogan did, and he did a pretty good job of it — there’s no reason that I can’t do that and feel ready.
“I may not be tournament-sharp in a sense that I haven’t played tournaments, but I think if you practice correctly and you do it correctly, that I’ve come off surgeries before.
“So I know the recipe for it, I’ve just got to get to a point where I feel comfortable enough where I can do that again.”
Although Woods would not speculate about a possible target for return, he admitted he would be keen to play at next year’s British Open, which will mark its 150th anniversary at St. Andrews, the home of golf where Woods has won twice before.
“Yeah, I would love to play at St. Andrews, there’s no doubt about it,” Woods said.
“Physically, hopefully I can. I’ve got to get there first. Tournament’s not going to go anywhere, but I need to get there.
“It’s my favorite golf course in the world. To be a two-time Open champion there, just being a part of the champions dinner is really neat.
“From my first one in ’05 I got to attend a champions dinner, it was pretty neat to be a part of.”
Woods meanwhile declined to comment directly on his memories of the crash, which left him unable to walk unassisted for several months.
However he revealed that amputation of his mangled leg, which suffered two compound fractures, had been “on the table”.
“I’m lucky to be alive but also still have the limb. Those are two crucial things. I’m very grateful that someone upstairs was taking care of me, that I’m able to not only be here but also to walk without a prosthesis,” said Woods, who said his rehabilitation had been harder than his multiple comebacks from back and knee surgeries earlier in his career.
“The knee stuff was one thing. That’s one level. Then the back. With this right leg. … it’s hard to explain how difficult it is. Being immobile for three months. Just to lay there. I was just looking forward to getting outside. That was a goal of mine. Especially for a person who lived his entire life outside, that was a goal,” he said.
“I transitioned from a wheelchair to crutches and now nothing. It’s been a lot of hard work.”