Column: Woods’ results inspire hope, his words offer caution

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The moment offered great hope for the immediate future of Tiger Woods.

Golf had gone all year without his blazing red shirt on Sunday and suddenly it had two of them. Woods and 12-year-old son Charlie, decked out just like Dad, headed down the 18th fairway tied for the lead in the PNC Championship, and for a moment the unthinkable seemed possible.

Winning — no matter that it was a scramble — in his first tournament in the 10 months since a car crash that mangled his right leg?

But then Woods missed the green to the right, both chipped too strong trying to hole it for eagle, both missed birdie putts and par was never going to be enough. The championship belt went to John Daly and his college son.

The words asked for restraint.

“No, no, no, no,” Woods said with a smile.

The topic was an observation from Matt Kuchar, who played with Woods in the final round and suggested that walking aside, his game and swing looked ready for the PGA Tour.

“I totally disagree. I’m not at that level. I can’t compete against these guys right now. No,” Woods said.

For those keeping track, that was his fifth “No.”

“It’s going to take a lot of work to get to where I feel I can complete against these guys and be at a high level,” Woods said, and then he was gone.

He at least ended the year on an uplifting note.

This might not seem like much, but it was the 26th consecutive year that Woods played at least one tournament as a pro. That didn’t seem likely after images of his crumpled SUV at the bottom of a hill in the Los Angeles suburbs and words like “comminuted open fractures,” medical speak for a bone broken in at least three places that broke through the skin.

Woods also has said amputation was on the table. Word on the medical street is the “Tiger Woods of doctors” were on duty when he was brought in. Lucky man.

And then 10 months later, he and his son played bogey-free (that was one of their goals) and had a great time (that was the other goal), finished at 25-under par in 36 holes, made 11 straight birdies and nearly won the tournament.

“The competitive juices, they are never going to go away,” Woods said. ”This is my environment. This is what I’ve done my entire life. I’m just so thankful to be able to have this opportunity to do it again.”

Golf doesn’t often make the front of sports pages, and never in December.

Welcome back, Tiger.

And so the next step, naturally, was to wonder when he would return. Woods doesn’t know, and neither does Lee Trevino.

The second question is where, another mystery.

Woods is forever linked with the Masters, where he delivered a watershed moment in golf history with his 12-shot victory in 1997 at age 21, and where he returned from four back surgeries to win a fifth green jacket in 2019.

The first round of the 2022 Masters is 107 days away, and Woods said he never took a day off during rehab. So who knows? But walking is a big part of playing, and Woods was in cart at the PNC Championship. Augusta National is the prettiest garden and the toughest walk.

Ian Poulter was contemplating this while watching Woods play on Saturday. Up the steep hill on No. 1, down the hill on No. 2, up the hill on No. 3, down and then up on No. 4. On and on he went until it was suggested the par-3 12th over Rae’s Creek was a fairly easy walk.

“You do have the bridge,” Poulter said, grinning because the point had been made.

Southern Hills, the site of the 2022 PGA Championship, is a fairly easy walk, once players get down the massive slope from the first tee, meaning they eventually have to go back up.

The steepest climb at St. Andrews, which is holding the 2022 British Open, is getting out of the pot bunkers (Woods didn’t hit into any of them when he won by eight shots as a 24-year-old in 2000).

About all Woods knows concerning his future is that he won’t be playing a full schedule ever again. He will have to pick the spots. “And even then,” he said, “my body might not cooperate.”

Justin Thomas sees more of him than any other player, and he was alongside for the opening round when Woods stuffed a towering 4-iron from 220 yards to 8 feet, and when Woods outdrove the 28-year-old on the 11th hole.

“In terms of hitting shots and all that stuff, he’s not that far away,” Thomas said. “But in terms of being able to compete and walk 72 holes multiple weeks in a row? Yeah, that’s a different story. And he’s the only one that can answer that.”

One answer could be found in his easy smile when it was over. Woods doesn’t smile often when he finishes second. But this was simply about playing with his son. He was happy with that.

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