When Tiger Woods sat down in front of the media on Tuesday at the Hero World Challenge, there was a noticeable trickle of sweat running down the right side of his jaw. As is often the case with Woods, he had just wrapped up something — perhaps a workout, a range session, or a meet-and-greet with sponsors — and had arrived for his latest obligation. He did not have time to run a towel over his face.
If you were searching for metaphors, it was a decent one. Woods, who was once again returning to the public eye after a long absence, has been working hard to repair things that have been broken, both in his body and his tour. He also doesn’t mind letting us know he’s been working hard. The suffering, and the grind, he still wears like a badge of honor.
For thirty minutes, Woods fielded questions from the media about a handful of topics. These days, his press conferences hit a lot of the same notes, like an iconic band playing its greatest hits.
“I love competing, I love playing,” Woods said. “I miss being out here with the guys, I miss the camaraderie and the fraternity-like atmosphere out here and the overall banter. But what drives me is I love to compete.”
His ankle no longer has pain after a “subtalar fusion” but he expects that surgery will eventually cause problems elsewhere in his body.
“The forces have to go somewhere,” Woods said. “Other parts are taking the brunt of the load, so I’m a little sore in other areas, but the ankle is good.”
He feels confident he can both walk and play 90 holes this week — a practice round and four tournament rounds — without major issues, something he hasn’t been capable of since he withdrew from the Masters last April. He’s not sure how good his golf will be, but he’s eager to find out. He would love to play at least once a month in 2024, but that’s the most optimistic scenario.
“I’ve played a lot of holes, but I haven't used a pencil and scorecard,” Woods said. “You put a pencil to paper and it really counts, it's a little bit different story. So I'm very curious about that as well.”
Perhaps more interestingly, he acknowledged that he has been hard at work behind the scenes trying to find a path forward for the PGA Tour and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, but gave little insight into whether the two entities will emerge as partners or return to a landscape where they are adversaries. He made it clear he was not happy with the way the framework agreement came together without input from the players, which is what directly inspired him to join the PGA Tour’s Player Advisory Board as its sixth player director.
“I was frustrated with the fact that the players were never involved. This is our tour,” Woods said. “We were all taken back by it. It happened so quickly without any of our involvement. No one knew. That can't happen again.”
What does Tiger Woods want at this point in his career? It’s an interesting question, and the answer may be more nuanced than he wants to reveal, but there were clues hinted at during his brief session with the media.
For 25 years, we’ve been conditioned to believe all Woods wants is to chase a piece of history, win major championships and secure his legacy as the greatest golfer the game has ever seen. Some of that, however, feels like projection, especially these days. We want those things for Woods, but his goals seem more inclusive, and less selfish than they once were.
Woods knows his time as a competitor is running out. “There will come a point in time, I haven't come around to it fully yet, that I won't be able to win again,” he said. “When it does I’ll walk—
Woods paused, trying to find the right phrasing.
“Now I can walk,” he joked. “I won’t say run away, but I’m going to walk away.”
Before that day arrives, he would like to do everything he can to ensure there will be a healthy landscape of professional golf going forward.
“That's part of the deal we're working through is trying to find a path, whatever that looks like,” he said. “There's so many different scenarios. That's why I said there's a lot of sleepless hours trying to figure that out, a lot of participation from the players and what does that look like.”
There is no question that Woods could have received a massive payday from the PIF if he’d been interested in joining the LIV Tour, but even with the cold war between the two sides thawing, Woods seems offended by the idea. That he spent 25 years building up the popularity of the PGA Tour clearly matters deeply to him, and without directly saying it, it seems fair to say he did not appreciate commissioner Jay Monahan, and directors Ed Herlihy and Jimmy Dunne signing away its future without his input.
“This is our Tour,” Woods said. “That can’t happen again.”
Woods acknowledged the looming Dec. 31 deadline in the framework agreement and said it could be extended if the two sides can’t iron out the details, but agree in principle. But he was quick to add there are other scenarios too, some that might not involve the Saudis.
“Everyone involved wants a return, that's just part of doing deals,” Woods said. “But we have to protect the integrity of our Tour and what that looks like and what that stands for going forward. Trying to figure all that out in the past few months has been a very difficult task. There are a lot of different options, a lot of different parts that are moving, trying to get a deal done whether it's from all different types of money. But we have to protect what the Tour is for the players.”
Does he have a feel for what the future of professional golf might look like a year from now?
“I would say it’s murky,” Woods said.
Bringing clarity to that future might not be as sexy as winning 18 majors, but it might be as important to the game as anything on his trophy wall.
Kevin Van Valkenburg is the Editorial Director for No Laying Up.
Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.