NASSAU, Bahamas — Shortly after 9 a.m. Tuesday inside a press tent staked in the sand adjacent to the fourth tee at Albany Golf Club, Tiger Woods emerged in public for the first time since his horrific February car crash 281 days ago.
When we last saw Woods in public, he was doing a TV interview with CBS at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera on Feb. 22, curiously sounding as if his speech was slurred.
The next day on the way to a photo shoot, he crashed his SUV into a wooded area, the vehicle so badly damaged it seemed like a miracle anyone would survive.
On Tuesday, Woods’ gait was careful and cautious. He looked and moved around like a man older than his 45 years as he gingerly walked into the tent to a podium where he took a seat and spoke about what’s taken place in his life for the past nine months, many of which have been harrowing.
The first takeaway from Woods’ press conference was that he’s done everything he can to try and erase Feb. 23 from his memory. Some people close to Woods believe he’s never even seen an image of the mangled SUV he drove off that Los Angeles road.
“This year is a year I’d like to turn the page on,” Woods said.
Woods was at his most terse in the 38-minute interview when he was asked what he remembered about the day of the crash.
“Yeah, all those answers have been answered in the investigation, so you can read about all that there in the post report,” he said, making a clear effort to shut down any further questions about the crash itself.
Woods had 10 surgeries before the February accident — five knee procedures and five on his back. And he’s come back from every one of those.
“This one’s been much more difficult,” Woods said. “The knee stuff that I had on my left knee … those operations were one thing, that’s one level. Then you add the back, that’s another level. And then with this right leg, that was … it’s hard to explain how difficult it has been just to be immobile for the three months, just lay there and I was just looking forward to getting outside.”
Woods said amputation of his right leg “was on the table” in the immediate aftermath of the crash.
“I’m lucky to be alive but also to still have the limb,” he said. “Those are two crucial things. I’m very grateful that someone upstairs was taking care of me, that I’m able to not only be here but also to walk without a prosthesis.
“There were some tough times in there. There were some really, really tough times. Pain got pretty great at times, but they helped me get through it and I’m on the better side of it, but I’ve still got a long way to go.”
Woods is keeping goals at a very miniscule level at the moment, making it clear that playing tournament golf again may or may not happen.
“I’ll put it to you this way: As far as playing at the Tour level, I don’t know when that’s going to happen,” he said. “Now, I’ll play a round here or there, a little hit-and-giggle. I can do something like that. That’s something that for a while there it didn’t look like I was going to.
“Now I’m able to participate in the sport of golf. Now, to what level, I do not know that.”
Listening to Woods, the wild speculation that he might play the Masters in April seems completely out of the question. When asked if the 150th British Open in July at St. Andrews, a place where he’s won, might be in his sights, Woods didn’t shoot that down.
“I would love to play at St. Andrews, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “It’s my favorite golf course in the world. To be a two-time Open champion there, just being a part of the champions dinner is really neat. Yes, I would love to be able to play that Open Championship, there’s no doubt about it. Physically, hopefully I can. I’ve got to get there first. Tournament’s not going to go anywhere, but I need to get there.”
Asked if he’s had any “flashbacks” from the crash, Woods said, “I don’t, no. Very lucky in that way.”
Woods spoke of “some dark moments” during the rehab, but he also joked about his massive home in Florida adding to the challenge of his rehab.
“I built a really nice house, but I didn’t realize how big it was until you start putting crutches on,” Woods said with a smile. “There were times where I had to take breaks, but I tell you what, though, there’s a point in time where my triceps got pretty jacked, so that was a lot of fun.”
Woods said it’s “very easy” to come to terms with possibly never playing PGA Tour level golf again “given the fact that I was able to come back after the fusion surgery and do what I did. I got that last major and I ticked off two more events along the way.”
“I don’t foresee this leg ever being what it used to be, hence I’ll never have the back what it used to be, and clock’s ticking,” he went on. “I’m getting older, I’m not getting any younger. All that combined means that a full schedule and a full practice schedule and the recovery that it would take to do that, no, I don’t have any desire to do that.
“But to ramp up for a few events a year as Mr. [Ben] Hogan did, he did a pretty good job of it, and there’s no reason that I can’t do that and feel ready. I’ve come off surgeries before, I’ve come off long layoffs and I’ve won or come close to winning before. So, I know the recipe for it. I’ve just got to get to a point where I feel comfortable enough where I can do that again.”