Tiger’s return caps an amazing comeback year
Washington — Playing in the Ryder Cup will be the culmination of an amazing comeback season for Tiger Woods, one the 14-time Major champion feared might never happen after back surgery.
The 42-year-old American has shown flashes of the form that made him golf’s dominant player in younger days in his first campaign after spinal fusion surgery, an operation to try to extend his legendary career.
"It was a last-ditch effort," Woods said. "I tried everything else because fusion is the last-ditch effort and nothing beyond that. So I didn’t know what my playing career would be like. This is all uncharted territory."
So far, Woods’ performances are steadily improving and the medical charts are showing no back issues after years of nagging problems.
Woods has hit drives longer than in his youthful days, led the British Open in the final round in July, finished second in August’s PGA Championship and fired a 62 recently, his lowest US PGA opening round since the 1999 Byron Nelson Classic. And the former world No1 achieved his goal of securing a Ryder Cup captain’s pick from Jim Furyk, who pulled him from a planned assistant captain’s role after seeing the quality of his game.
"Deep down, I wanted to make the team. I really wanted to play on it," Woods said. "I had not started playing golf really yet, but still, it was a goal at the end of the season to make this team.
"As the year progressed, I gained some traction and was somehow able to get some high finishes and lo and behold, I’m a part of this team. It’s incredible, it really is, to look back at the start of the year and to have accomplished a goal like that. To be a player is just beyond special."
Woods still has not won a Major since the 2008 US Open and has not won any event in more than five years.
"It’s about enjoying being back," Woods said. "Enjoying being able to play golf again. Competing at this level. All of these things at the beginning of the year were all unknowns.
"It has been one of my best years as a whole. To have a winless year, but to go through what I’ve gone through — I didn’t know if I was ever going to play again, I was just hoping to be able to play with my kids and golf with my buddies at home — this has been a blessing."
Now Woods, who has 79 career PGA titles, has not given up his quest to reach the record 18 Major wins of Jack Nicklaus or Sam Snead’s all-time PGA mark of 82.
"In order to get to Jack’s record, I have to pass Snead’s record. Just simple math," Woods said. "And I want to make that happen. I’m close. I have been close to winning tournaments this year. I think if I keep giving myself opportunities, I’ll get the job done.
"I feel my next wins are coming soon. How soon, I don’t know, but I’m putting myself in tournaments now so I’m not that far away from getting it done."
Woods, whose first Major title came at the 1997 Masters, has seen huge support from crowds at events, his amazing shotmaking at an older age sparking roars and cheers.
"People are more appreciative. They know that I’m at the tail end of my career and I don’t know how many more years I have left. I’m certainly not like I was when I was 22; 42, it’s a different ball game."
And, Woods said, people can relate more to fighting back pain than superb heroics. "When you get to your 40s, you’re feeling it, and I’m not the only one."