After Tiger Woods announced on Tuesday that he had undergone a fifth back surgery, it seemed like a mighty blow on the future career of someone who had a mediocre 2020 (even when seemingly healthy) and whose body has already taken on so much strain. On Wednesday, Rory McIlroy said that might not actually be the case.
Woods played in the PNC Championship with his son, Charlie, on Dec. 17-19 in Florida. At that event, he let Charlie hit most of the drives, and video even surfaced of him laboring through some swings on the range. In retrospect, the evidence was right in front of us even though it's often hard to tell with Woods.
McIlroy said on Wednesday that Tiger had surgery four days after that event.
"It happened on the 23rd of December," McIlroy said. "Obviously pretty close with him. So yeah, I think in his words, it was a small procedure ... any time you're being cut into, obviously try to avoid that as much as you can.
"But yeah, he was back on his feet the next day and ... I don't think we can read too much into it. It was just something that ... I think they were just trying to clean a couple little bits up. Obviously he won't be playing for the next couple of months, but he should be back for the Masters, if not before that. So yeah, I think he'll be just fine."
This mimics the language Tiger used in his announcement on Tuesday, and while I'm always hesitant to trust any type of rhetoric that mitigates a back surgery as not that big of a deal from the person it was performed on, it's certainly encouraging to learn from Rory that Tiger was up and walking around the following day.
However, it still doesn't erase two big problems for Woods. The first is that he was extremely mediocre in 2020 even when healthy and the second is that it's unlikely that this is his last procedure. Further deterioration could happen quickly. A fifth back surgery could be followed by a sixth and seventh. Probably will be followed by a sixth and seventh.
As I laid out on Tuesday, the price Tiger has to pay just to get back to his baseline of competition is extremely high, and will only get higher as his body ages. However, his return in 2021 will be much anticipated. And while he didn't lay out any return plan other than that he will miss the Farmers Insurance Open and Genesis Invitational in February, it does sound like Augusta National in April is a reasonable expectation for when we could see him return. The questions then will be around what kind of shape the game is in.
Tiger finished T38 at the 2020 Masters and has no top 10s at any majors since he won the 2019 Masters nearly two years ago.