Tiger Woods is going to close out a harrowing year on a heartwarming note. After nearly losing his right leg in a horrific car accident in February, Woods announced on Wednesday that he will play in the 2021 PNC Championship in Orlando on Dec. 18-19 with his son, Charlie.
"Although it's been a long and challenging year, I am very excited to close it out by competing in the @PNCchampionship with my son Charlie," Woods tweeted Wednesday. "I'm playing as a Dad and couldn't be more excited and proud."
The duo teamed up last December as well, and that was the last time Woods was seen in any kind of competitive environment. In January, as the PGA Tour season started to unfold, Woods had an additional back surgery. In February, his Los Angeles car wreck left him in a hospital bed for nearly a month.
The weeks since then have been a long, slow march to this moment.
Woods said last week at the Hero World Challenge that he didn't know when he would be able to play PGA Tour golf again. And while this is not a PGA Tour event, it's still an imortant step forward in his recovery process.
"As far as playing at the Tour level, I don't know when that's going to happen," said Woods. "Now, I'll play a round here or there, a little hit and giggle, I can do something like that. I certainly like ... the USGA suggested Play It Forward. I really like that idea now. I don't like the tees on the back. I like Play It Forward. ... To see some of my shots fall out of the sky a lot shorter than they used to is a little eye-opening, but at least I'm able to do it again. That's something that for a while there it didn't look like I was going to."
Team Woods finished 7th in field of 20 at this event. Charlie carried their squad in his first big public appearance, and the entire week was a delight. Who could have known then that we wouldn't see Woods swing a golf club in a tournament -- any kind of tournament -- for another 12 months?
This year's field includes Henrik and Karl Stenson, Nick and Matthew Faldo, Nelly and Petr Korda, Bubba Watson and Wayne Ball, Justin and Mike Thomas (who won last year), and John and Little John Daly. There are no real stakes compared to PGA Tour events, but the event is often a joyful end to the year, and this year will, somewhat incredibly, serve as the jumping off point for the rest of whatever Tiger's career looks like.
What will that career look like? Woods has, throughout the last 10 days in multiple interviews, insisted over and over again that he is not committed to putting himself through the personal grind of playing a robust schedule on the PGA Tour ever again. He referenced Ben Hogan's reduced playing days following his own car accident and mentioned how he could "click off" a tournament every now then.
"For [me to conceivably win again], I have a long way to go. I have a long way in the rehab process of this leg and it's not the fun stuff of the rehab," said Woods. "It's just reps and breaking up scar tissue and things that really hurt. So that part of it's not going to be fun, but the challenge of it is. I enjoy the challenge of getting in there and trying to push it to the next level, sometimes it's two steps forward, one step back, but you've got to go through it. I enjoy that part of it, and maybe one day it will be good enough where I can get out here and I can compete against these best players in the world again."
Tiger Woods announced that he will play competitive golf for the first time since his car accident in February. Jonathan Coachman is joined by Greg DuCharme and Kyle Porter for an instant reaction to the news. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
It's not entirely surprising that Woods is playing the PNC. While he has publicly tempered expectations, he was also filmed on the range last week at the Hero hitting golf balls nearly every day -- working up a substantial sweat, pounding 3-wood and driver. He did not look very much like a man who has had five back surgeries, five knee surgeries and one of the more horrid car wrecks of any athlete in the last few decades.
There were rumors that he might resurface with Charlie in Orlando this week for a laid-back outing, and while they seemed a tad far-fetched, they were also not implausible, especially considering how often he was seen on the range at the Hero. Still, expectations for what a nearly-46-year-old Woods looks like, and even walks like, are not sky-high.
"Now, internally, I haven't reached that point. I haven't proven it to myself that I can do it [at the PGA Tour level]," said Woods. "I can show up here and I can host an event, I can play a par-3 course, I can hit a few shots, I can chip and putt, but we're talking about going out there and playing against the world's best on the most difficult golf courses under the most difficult conditions. I'm so far from that."
I suspect Woods will use a cart in Orlando, and though he will receive the lion's share of the attention early on, eventually Charlie will once again steal the show. It will be a sweet ending to what has likely been one of the more challenging years of Woods' life. Tiger has always stirred up so many things for us to celebrate. Major wins, tournament wins, preposterous moments. And while none of his shots at this tournament will matter from an historical perspective, this will -- perhaps ironically -- be two of the most meaningful days of his ridiculous career.