Tiger Woods is taking an indefinite break from competitive golf.
“Right now, I need a lot of work on my game, and to still spend time with the people that are important to me,” he said in a statement. “My play, and scores, are not acceptable for tournament golf.”
In the same statement, he said the back injury that made him withdraw from a recent tournament is unrelated to the back surgery he had in March of 2014.
This isn’t an injury-driven break, this is a performance-driven break. Tiger Woods needs time off to work on his golf game.
It makes sense. When you go back and look month-by-month at what he has been doing over the last 10 months, you see that Tiger has played remarkably little golf, both in tournaments and on the range.
Here’s the breakdown:
On April 1, 2014, Tiger announced that he had undergone surgery on a pinched nerve in his back. It was expected to keep him out for three months.
On May 5, he wrote a blog post updating the world on his progress. He said he had done some light chipping and putting, but hadn’t swung a golf club since his surgery.
On June 26, nearly three months after surgery, he returned to competitive golf at the Quicken Loans National. It was an earlier return than the golf world expected. At his pre-tournament press conference, he even admitted that he wouldn’t have played if the tournament hadn’t benefitted his charity foundation. When asked when exactly he started practicing after his surgery, he was vague. He said he started hitting full shots “a couple weeks ago.” But later in the year he said that he swung a driver for the first time since his surgery on June 19, a week before the tournament.
Given his lack of practice time (i.e. essentially zero practice time), what happened over the next seven weeks was understandable.
Tiger played in four tournaments, the Quicken Loans National, the British Open, the WGC Bridgestone, and the PGA Championship. He missed the cut twice, withdrew once, and came in 69th place in the one tournament where he made it through the weekend.
He played 12 competitive rounds and broke 70 twice.
Following his disastrous performance at the PGA Championship on August 8, he announced that he was taking an indefinite break from golf to rest his back.
Five weeks later, he told reporters, “I haven’t swung a golf club yet. I’ve just been shadow swinging without a club, but I’ve been busting my butt in the gym pretty hard.”
He didn’t play competitive golf again until the Hero World Challenge on December 4 — four months after he announced his leave of absence.
At his pre-tournament press conference, he explained what he’d been up to over the preceding 16 weeks:
“I didn’t really do much for the first couple months. I basically just went to my kids’ games and just hung around the house, and did rehab probably once or twice a day, but it was just little tedious stuff.
“I would putt and chip here and there just to keep a feel of having a club in my hand, but it wasn’t anything serious.”
He said he started “hitting more golf balls, playing a little bit” about six weeks before the tournament (so, early November). That means he went about two and half months without playing golf.
He finished in last place in that event. Even more troublingly, he started hitting all these terrible chips that you simply don’t see professional golfers hit regularly.
After the tournament, he got the flu. He later said that he was sick for three weeks and lost a significant amount of weight going into the new year.
He returned to PGA Tour golf at the Phoenix Open on January 29, where his chipping yips became an even worse problem and he missed the cut.
The next week he played the Farmers Insurance Open. At his pre-tournament press conference, he told reporters that his practice habits have changed due to his injuries and duties as a dad:
“I would say I practice much less now. One, I’ve been hurt, and two, I want to spend as much time as I can with my kids. I have split custody, so when I’m at home, I want to be home with them, take them to a soccer game or to school or to activities, whatever it is. I’m their dad.”
He withdrew from the tournament after 11 holes because his back tightened up during a fog delay.
So to wrap up his last 10 months: He took three months off after his surgery, and didn’t play any real golf for at least two of those months. He took four months off after that awful seven-week stint of competitive play over the summer, and didn’t play any real golf for at least two and a half months. And finally he had the flu for three weeks going into 2015.
When you add it up, the guy just hasn’t been on the course in any capacity that much over the last year.
His ex-coach, Hank Haney, told ESPN’s Bob Harig as much:
“When I was with Tiger, he had times where he’d go out and sometimes play 54 holes in a day. He’d be out there playing golf. He’d play and play and play. And he’d keep going around and around. Last year before Torrey Pines, he admitted he played nine holes of golf.
“Forget about tournaments, he has not played golf. If you counted the amount of rounds he’s played in the last 12 months … 18 holes, not tournaments. Just golf. What do you think that total is? Next to nothing.”
On the one hand, there’s an an optimistic interpretation for this: Tiger just needs to practice! For all the psychoanalysis and speculation about his mental state, it’s plausible that he’s been so bad because he simply hasn’t been able to work on his game consistently for a year. As long as his back holds up, there’s no reason why he can’t return to form after some uninterrupted work on his game, right?
On the other hand, it seems like Tiger can’t go two months without needing a break to rest his back anymore. That’s scary. If his back isn’t going to hold up to the slightest nuisance (a fog delay, a leisurely lunch break), there’s not much hope that he compete for majors on any consistent basis.
Tiger’s statement announcing his break was intentionally vague. He technically didn’t rule out playing again in two weeks. In fact, he technically didn’t call it a break at all. But it’s clear that his game needs work, the type of work he hasn’t been able to put in since his surgery.
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