Tiger Woods is back hitting bombs, making birdies and generally having fun on the golf course again.
It was such a joy to see him and his son Charlie lap the course at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando during the PNC Championship pro-am on Friday that it almost made you forget that the eldest Woods still has a steep incline to climb before he’s ready to go 18 holes again, let alone go more than four laps on a 7,300-yard PGA Tour setup.
“It’s going to be a while,” Woods said after his ride in which he and Charlie shared a cart. “I couldn’t even walk on this golf course right now, and it’s flat. I don’t have the stamina. My leg is not quite straight yet and it will take time. I told you in the Bahamas, I’m far from playing tournament golf. It’s hit, hop in a cart and move through my stuff like I would at Medalist. To be able to play tournament golf and be able to recover and train and practice and hit balls after a game and do whatever I need to be at a high level, I’m far from that.
The pessimistic view is that Woods may never get his full back to play at PGA Tour events — that is, at least not without the use of a cart.
Could a cart be made available? Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, yes, it is a possibility. Woods would have to file a formal request with the Tour for a set of wheels and make a strong medical case, just like Casey Martin did in 2001, when he successfully sued the PGA Tour for denying him a cart. More recently, John Daly, who suffers from osteoarthritis in his knee, was cleared, albeit by the PGA of America, to ride a cart in the PGA Championship.
So what about? If Woods’ recovery isn’t progressing as he hopes, would he consider requesting the use of a cart on the PGA Tour?
“Absolutely not,” Woods said Friday in response to a question from ESPN reporter Bob Harig. “Not for a PGA Tour event, no. It’s not who I am. It’s not how I’ve always been, and if I can’t play at this level, I can’t play at this level.
It’s not who I am. It was an unwavering response and perhaps unsurprising to hear from a golfer who has a nose for the game’s history and lore, not to mention athletic pride oozing from every pore. This week, though? This week is different, Woods said. Without carts, many aging greats in the PNC domain would not be physically able to participate in an event that thrives on their very presence.
“You wouldn’t see some of the legends that I grew up idolizing and watching, and even had the chance to play early in my career, they couldn’t play in those events,” Woods said. “Their bodies are too damaged.”
Woods was talking about the likes of 82-year-old Lee Trevino — who Tiger and Charlie spent time with hitting balls on the range on Friday afternoon — but he might as well have been talking about himself.
Woods was then asked if he had any goals for the next year, to which he repeated that he lacked the stamina to realistically target events he might try to play.
“You saw it there,” he said. “I can hit here, drop a ball here, hit a few corners, do that. But to go out there and have 220 yards and know you have to hit a 3 or 4 iron and miss the ball in the right spot and then hit certain shots and one shot determines whether you win or lose is a totally different mentality from the one we have here this week. I’m not there yet.
We will all be part of it, but not in a cart.