What Tiger Woods’ performance at The Open tells us about what might or might not be next

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Tiger Woods may have played his final round of the Open at St Andrews on Friday, but he’s confident it won’t be his last start in this championship or any other major.

Due to the R&A’s rota, The Open would probably not return to the Old Course at St Andrews until 2027 at the earliest. Woods will then be 51 years old. He’s unsure if his surgically repaired right leg or stiff back will be in good shape to still play at a high level at this point.

Woods’ return to St Andrews, where he won two of his three Open Championship titles in 2000 and 2005, did not go as he had hoped. He carded a 6-over-78 in the first round and a 3-over-75 in the second. His 9-over total was well outside of average, so he won’t be in the 150th The Open this weekend.

“For me it felt like this was my last British Open here at St Andrews,” said Woods. “And the fans, the ovation and the warmth, it was an amazing feeling. I understand what Jack [Nicklaus] and Arnold [Palmer] had gone through in the past. I ended up feeling like this.

“They understand what golf is about and what it takes to become an Open champion. And I’ve been lucky and fortunate to have won this twice. And it felt very emotional just because I just don’t know what my health is going to be and I feel like I can play future British Opens but I don’t know if I can play long enough that I can still be when it comes back here play?”

After seeing Woods compete in three majors in the past four months, what do we think of his comeback and what’s next?

The state of the Woods game

It’s still difficult to assess the state of Woods’ game because it’s obvious that his surgically repaired right leg continues to bother him, and he doesn’t play much golf at all.

The 15-time major champion is currently ranked No. 994 in the official world golf rankings. He doesn’t seem ready to commit to more tournaments outside of the majors. After skipping the US Open in June, it became clear that he doesn’t feel like he has to play all of them at all. He will choose his places for the future depending on the course and how he feels.

Despite Woods’ disappointing result, there were some bright spots at St Andrews. He had a 412-yard drive, the longest of any player on Thursday. He averaged 338.9 yards from the tee, which ranked among the top 25 players in the field after two rounds. He hit 65.6% of the fairways and 72.2% of the greens in regulation.

Woods’ problems came on and around the expansive greens of the Old Course. He used to have the best short game in the world, but now he plays so little that he might have a hard time turning those “feelings” on and off. He needed 70 putts and had four three-putts over 36 holes.

“I made my share of mistakes in my two-day game,” said Woods. “I fought again [Friday] to get the feel for the greens. I missed a lot of putts again. Same as [Thursday]. I had hit a few bad shots and landed in bad spots. And again, I just never got anything going.”

Wood’s days of fighting for major championships could very well be in his rearview mirror. Then again, no one thought he’d win another Major before claiming his fifth green jacket by winning the Masters in 2019. But this comeback seems different, more laborious.

Woods’ health

Woods was asked Friday if he could play additional tournaments outside of the majors to better prepare for these events that really matter. He said he didn’t think his body could handle it.

“I understand all of that,” Woods said. “I understand I’m more battle hardened but it’s hard to just go and play 18 holes. People have no idea what I’m going through and how many hours of body work before and after[round]to do what I just did every single day. That’s what people don’t understand – they don’t see. And then you think about playing more events, it’s hard enough just doing what I’ve been doing.”

Woods had said at the Masters and the PGA Championship that his surgically repaired right leg would get stronger over time. Earlier this week he said the leg is stronger and he seems to be walking with more confidence. He walked 58 holes on the Old Course before the start of the tournament.

“I didn’t know I was playing Augusta,” he said. “My leg wasn’t able to play 72 holes. I just ran out of breath. But now it’s different. It’s gotten a lot stronger, a lot better. Hopefully it stays that way. But again, like I said, having a lot of hardware in there makes it a bit of a challenge.”

Because Woods was injured so badly in a car accident outside of Los Angeles in February 2021 that doctors almost had to amputate his right leg, it’s easy to forget that his body already contained more hardware than a hardware store.

About a month before the wreck, Woods had his fifth back surgery in seven years. The procedure was his fourth microdiscectomy, intended to relieve nerve pain in his lower back, and his first back surgery since suffering a spinal fusion in April 2017. He also had surgery on his left knee and missed significant time due to leg, Achilles tendon, elbow and neck injuries.

“Well, my body can certainly get better, but realistically not by much,” he said ahead of The Open. “It’s been through a lot, and you don’t heal as well at 46 as you do at 26. So it is what it is.”

What’s next for Tiger?

Woods did not say when his next tournament appearance would come. He’s not tied to any event, although it’s hard to imagine he won’t be competing in the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas in November. He is the host of the event and the tournament benefits his foundation and other charities.

It would also be a surprise if Woods didn’t play with his son Charlie at the PNC Championships in Orlando, Fla., December 15-18. The pair finished second at the event last year. It was the first time Woods had played since the car accident.

Woods’ competitors are hoping to see more of them on the PGA Tour.

“I wish him the best,” said Jon Rahm. “Obviously he’s done amazing things here and around the world. At this point [I’m] hoping that he stays healthy and can lead a normal life from now on. You can tell he’s in pain. I know he’s making a front out there and trying to walk normally, but you notice it at certain moments when you’re walking down some of the hills. You can tell he’s suffering.

“Hopefully they can – not fix it entirely, I don’t know if they’ll be able to – but minimize it and [he can] have a normal life. As normal a life as Tiger Woods can obviously have.”

https://www.espn.com/golf/story/_/id/34248462/what-tiger-woods-performance-open-tell-us-or-not-next What Tiger Woods’ performance at The Open tells us about what might or might not be next

Emma Bowman

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