Hard to imagine Tiger Woods being just one of the guys, but that is exactly what he has become in his long major slump and absence due to an Achilles injury. The question now is whether he can again be golf’s most dominant force.
Woods, 35, makes his return to competitive golf at this week’s World Golf Championships – Bridgestone Invitational ranked 28th in the Official World Golf Rankings. In the 24-year history of the ranking, Woods has been No. 1 623 weeks, 66 fewer than the combined total of the other 13 players who have held the No. 1 title.
Also once a lock for United States Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup teams, Woods now sits 26th on this year’s Presidents Cup points list. Barring a flourish of top five finishes Woods will be lumped in the group of possible wild card selections for American captain Fred Couples.
While not a major, the WGC event represents a tune-up for next week’s PGA Championship. His 14th and last major title was the 2008 U.S. Open. That was 13 majors ago, though he has missed four due to injury.
In April, Woods suffered injuries to his left Achilles tendon and knee during the third round of the Masters. Woods tried to come back at The Players Championship in May, but withdrew after playing just nine holes. He then skipped starts in the U.S. Open and Open Championship.
On Tuesday, Woods declared himself ready to roll, saying he has not felt this good physically in “years,” emphasizing plural.
“It’s really not too hard when I really can’t play golf at all,” said Woods, whose last PGA Tour win was nearly two years ago at the BMW Championship. “That’s not so bad. It gets a little more difficult when you get on that cusp and [the doctors] start saying, ‘You’re pretty close to getting going.’ I was saying, ‘I feel really good.’ That’s when it becomes a little more difficult is when you’re itching to go and they’re … you’re borderline whether or not you should go or not. That’s where I’ve learned a lesson from the past in not coming back too early.”
During this latest absence from the game, Woods still was not without some controversy. In early July, Woods parted ways with Steve Williams, his caddie for 13 of his 14 major wins, after a 12-year relationship.
“Well, I thought it was time for a change,” he said. “I felt that Stevie and I have had just an amazing run. Steve is a hell of a caddie, there’s no denying that. He’s helped my career, and I think I’ve helped his, as well. We’ve had a great partnership for 12 years, maybe a little bit more than that, won a bunch of tournaments, but I just felt it was time to change things up a little bit. I felt very comfortable with the move.”
Woods will have long-time friend Bryon Bell as an interim caddie this week, and Woods is not offering any names as long-term caddie candidates.
Woods has won this tournament seven times, but last year shot 18-over par to finish 30 strokes back of champion Hunter Mahan.
Despite the layoff, Woods’ expectations remain unwavering. He wants to win. Can he this week? Absolutely. Will he? Woods has four rounds to find out.
Of greater import are his legs. Can they hold up for another run of major victories and weeks as world No. 1? As much as Woods likes to control his world, not even he can answer that question. Only time can.
Stuart Hall is editor of the Golf Press Association.