Four weeks before his 40th birthday, Tiger Woods found himself in an air-conditioned tent Tuesday ruminating about the fragility of the human body.
He was talking about Kobe Bryant, who debuted for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996, the same year Woods turned pro. But as Woods reflected on Bryant’s decision to retire after this season, it was hard not to notice a parallel between the two of them.
“You add up all those games, it takes a toll on the body,” Woods said. “Eventually it just doesn’t heal anymore.”
Woods has had three back surgeries in the last 21 months. He has not healed. Not fully, anyway, and not enough for him to even remotely resemble the player who long ago won 14 majors. Since 2014, he has fallen from No. 1 in the official world rankings to No. 400, as of this week. His 2015 season was the worst of his career. And his 2016 season may be nonexistent.
At the site of this week’s Hero World Challenge, a tournament that benefits his charitable foundation, Woods said he has yet to begin rehabbing from his two most recent surgeries. The first one, in September, left him optimistic about playing sometime in early 2016. But after a follow-up procedure in late October left him on bed rest, Woods was noncommittal Tuesday about the timing of his return.
“There is no timetable for this,” he said. “So where is the light at the end of the tunnel? I don’t know.”
What Woods does know now is he can walk. That, he said, is about the extent of his athletic capabilities. He spends much of his time these days at home in Jupiter, Fla., playing video games online. With the audio off, he remains anonymous to his opponents. He will play just about any sports game, though when asked about “Rory McIlroy PGA Tour,” the EA Sports game that used to bear his name, Woods smiled and said, “Not that one.”
His first rehab goal is simply to get back to the point where he can kick a soccer ball around with his two children. “I miss doing that,” he said. “If I can get to that, then we can start talking about golf.”
Woods underwent a microdiscectomy in March 2014 to remove disc fragments that were pinching a nerve in his lower back. He returned in under three months, but the pain persisted.
He took two more extended breaks before playing throughout last summer, during which he missed the cut at the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship. Even in late August, when he made a stirring run into contention at the Wyndham Championship, Woods said his hip was sore.
His September surgery was another microdiscectomy in the same area, though Woods was vague about an additional operation in October, simply calling it a follow-up procedure.
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