NASSAU, Bahamas—Tiger Woods looks toward the 2017 golf season with hope his injury woes are behind him and the second act of his career might have echoes of its sensational start.
Woods completed his comeback event from a career-longest 16-month layoff following back surgery Sunday at the Hero World Challenge, settling for 15th place after playing 72 holes in four-under-par 284 at Albany Golf Club.
The 18-man invitational at the remote Bahamas enclave where Woods is a member is far less of a challenge than regular PGA events will provide, much less majors.
Older Woods is a far different player than the Woods of old, who captured 14 major titles starting with the 1997 Masters and to date ending with the 2008 US Open.
Woods has had to make subtle changes to his swing during his layoff to protect his back, using patterns from his younger days as a guide.
“I looked like the size of a 1-iron and I could hit it and I could really move the ball,” Woods said. “I probably never will be as loose and as Gumby-like (flexible) when I was that young, but there are other things I can learn from that.”
Woods has to be wary of back issues. Even kicking around a football with his children “is certainly dangerous because you’re not activated.”
“If I’m activated and I can prepare for something, then I’m fine. It’s the unexpected (that’s dangerous). When you have back issues like most of us do out here, it happens.”
With his 41st birthday approaching on December 30, Woods has changed his workout regimen to allow for the toll time and past injuries have taken on his body.
“I can’t do what I used to do,” Woods said. “My first probably five, six years on tour, I ran 30 miles a week. I would run five, six miles almost every day, at least four. Before a round, after a round, it didn’t matter.
“There’s no way in hell I’m doing that now. That’s just aging. That’s just I’ve had four knee surgeries, three backs. My body has been through it.”
Weightlifting the way he once did is no longer an option either.
“I don’t load the spine like I used to,” Woods said. “I’m trying to do other things to gain strength. I don’t have any problem with suppleness and flexibility, but I also need to have stability.”
After a round, Woods now takes extra time to help his body recover.
“It probably takes me close to two or three hours to do everything with my physio,” Woods said. “And cold tubs and ice are never fun. But got to do it.”
That wouldn’t keep him from a trip to the practice range after playing 18 holes, but time has changed what he would do there.
“I’d be smart about it and warm up to a driver,” Woods said. “But I could do it.”
Woods has gone to a familiar old putter, the Scotty Cameron signature model he used in 13 of his 14 major wins, now that sponsor Nike no longer makes equipment, saying he returned to it “the day that (Nike was) no longer a part of the hard goods side.”
To that end, Woods has meetings with swing coach Chris Como that now function more like training camps.
“We’ll have small little windows where we will practice when I have time to do it,” Woods said. “Then I’ll shut it down, work on my short game in the backyard, chip and putt, and then we’ll have another training camp a week or two later.”
The goal is for Woods to once again reach the point where he can be a legitimate title threat whenever he steps on the tee.
Woods, four shy of the all-time record 18 won by Jack Nicklaus, has 79 career triumphs, three shy of Sam Snead’s all-time PGA Tour record.
“Winning is a process,” Woods said. “It’s going from at home on the range and then out on my home course and then going into a tournament setting and then eventually on the back nine of an event (on Sunday) trying to win it.
“And then the ultimate is a major championship and the back nine of a major is a totally different animal. I’m still at the beginning stages of that process.”