Christmas has come and gone, which means the year 2022 of golf is on deck. Although most of the attention is focused on the year ahead, Tiger Woods’ performance at the 2021 PNC Championship from a few weeks ago still resonates. He looked so… surprisingly good (?) That it was impossible not to try to project where he might strike first in 2022. There are some very specific and obvious landing spots for him in the new year, but one stands out above all of them. – and it’s probably not what you would expect.
But before we get to that, we need to talk about a broader timeline. Obviously, what Woods says does not always coincide with what he does (this is true of all professional athletes), but he did point out two different realities when, in a year marked by injuries, he gave his first press conference in the Bahamas. at the Hero World Challenge in early December.
1. «I do not foresee that this leg will go back to what it was, therefore I will never have my back as before, and time is ticking. I’m getting older, I’m not getting younger. All of that combined means that a full schedule and a full training schedule and the recovery it would take to do that, no, I have no desire to do it. But to pick up the pace for a few events a year, as I alluded to yesterday, Mr. Hogan did a good job, and there’s no reason why I can’t do it and feel ready. ”
Tiger won’t play 20 times a year, and he probably won’t play 10 times a year. At this stage of his career, at his age and with the number of operations he has had, playing 6 to 8 times a year is a ceiling that used to be a floor. This is another clue he gave.
2. “As for playing at Tour level, I don’t know when it will happen.”
We had a response to that – sort of – at the PNC Championship when Tiger and his son Charlie nearly won the event after shooting a 57 Sunday on scramble format. True, Tiger was in a cart the entire time and clearly exhausted by the end, but he was swinging the stick at an astonishing speed for someone who might have lost their leg 10 months earlier.
After they played together Sunday at the PNC, Matt Kuchar did everything but declare Tiger the Masters favorite in April (he’s 40-1 according to Caesars Sportsbook, by the way).
But Tiger rejected everything when asked about the future.
“No, no, no, no,” he said when asked if he thought Kuchar’s comments were spot on. «I totally disagree. I’m not at that level. I can’t compete with these guys right now, no. It’s going to take a lot of work for me to feel like I can compete with these guys and be at a high level. “
He reiterated that “he’s not going to play a full schedule anymore” and will choose his events and “even then my body might not cooperate with that.”
Here’s the background, as 2021 gives way to 2022. This year marked the first since 1991 that Tiger didn’t start at least one official OWGR event, and I can’t imagine, especially after seeing him at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club. A few weeks ago, let that streak extend to two years. There are caveats, of course. Maybe your back or knee or leg or neck or any of the countless parts of the body that you have had carved over the years is not cooperating and you are unable to play golf at a high level. But after watching him try to win with his son in Orlando on Sunday, it became clear that Tiger is still, if not a winner, then a “winner.” competing at the highest level of this sport.
“Competitive juices are never going to go away,” Woods said. This is my environment. This is what I’ve done all my life. I am very grateful to have this opportunity to do it again. This year was not a good start to the year, and it did not look very good.
So where could we see competitive juices again, and what could Woods’ schedule look like in 2022? Once he starts playing, it is almost certain that, if the body allows it, he will play all the majors that he can. But where (and when) will it start? There are 5-7 natural innings for the 15-time majors winner, and here’s a man’s conjecture based on all the evidence we have as he turns 46 later this week and wears his broken body (but his game is still sharp. ) to a new year.
Genesis Invitational (February 17): While the symmetry of going back to the event that took place just before his horrific accident in 2021 would be fine, this is too early for Tiger. I’d be more surprised if he played here than if he played the PNC Championship with Charlie.
Arnold Palmer Invitational (March 3): If you want to play the Masters but don’t want to play it as your first event (as you did in 2010 when T4 ended at Augusta), then this is a natural place. However, I don’t believe it. I think we are looking at the Masters or a different event later in the year. I don’t think we’ll see Tiger on the field before April because I don’t think he’s as concerned about rust as he is getting his body to rest and be healthy for big championship golf.
Masters (April 7): It’s easy to see, right? Fifteen months after the accident, Tiger playing with other greats in the largest cathedral in this country. A one-week celebration of your career that is highly unlikely to end in a cut made – much less contention for another trophy – but is nonetheless one of the best golf moments of the entire year. Walking around Augusta is a concern – especially as their first tournament back – but this is definitely up for grabs in a way that I didn’t imagine it would be just a month ago.
PGA Championship (May 19): In my head, his first return event is going to be the Masters or the Open Championship, but this one is certainly doable. Six weeks is an eternity for him, so the distance between Augusta National and this second major of the year – and how healthy he may be in the interim – could make the decision for him.
Memorial (June 2): This would make sense if the PGA is too early or you don’t want to fight the mighty Southern Hills. The weather will be warm enough here for you to feel confident in loosening up your body. It would also be a good, low-risk setup for the last two majors of the year.
US Open (June 16): This would be an odd re-entry point for Tiger, who hasn’t fared well at the US Open in the last decade (he hasn’t had a top 10 since 2010). I would be surprised if he would put his body through the tribulations necessary to deal with a US Open field and setup. If he’s already returned, then maybe, but I’d be surprised if this was his first tournament back.
Open Championship (July 14): The Open is the one that gives Woods the most time to heal, and the 150th edition in a place where he has already won two great championships? Come on, it’s the perfect marriage between golf history and living legend. Woods had awe in his eyes when asked recently about the possibility of returning to the Old Course in July. He knows that while his opportunities at Augusta National are broader (he is likely to play there for the next 20 years), the window to play the Old Course at an Open is closing. As a true competitor there, this or the next – sometime in the 2020s – will likely be your last.
That will be significant, and no matter where we see him in 2022, I imagine he will go to great lengths to make sure he’s teeing off at Burn on July 14 with the Claret Pitcher in his overwhelming shadow. It would be an incredible scene.