Tiger Woods taught us nothing during a busy December of golf. What was presumed to be a bit of foreshadowing for how 2023 could unfold for him turned into nothing more than a continuation of what he looked like in 2022.
Woods first withdrew from the Hero World Challenge with plantar fasciitis before partnering with Rory McIlroy a week later in a loss to Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth in The Match VII. It was a performance (by both sides) that Spieth may still be jawing about when they all congregate at the Masters next April. Following that short match at Pelican Golf Club, Woods teamed with his son, Charlie, in the PNC Championship where they finished T8, six strokes behind Vijay and Qass Singh.
Tiger's performance throughout was almost perfectly emblematic of his 2022. Some great swings, amazing speed for someone of his age and injury history, a lot of rust, and plenty of disappointment from a body that is unable to perform at his desired level.
This is who Tiger is now. The idea that this was perhaps going to be an end-of-year push toward a thriving, healthier 2023 was curtailed immediately with his withdrawal in the Bahamas and then again when he looked mediocre (albeit enjoyably mediocre!) at Pelican with Rory.
Still, there is seemingly a refusal to admit that Woods is in no position to compete at PGA Tour events, much less win major championships. Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington said during the PNC Championship that he thinks Tiger will win another major! While players are extremely disincentivized to say that Woods will not win again, it still came off sounding ridiculous.
Woods himself has admitted that his problem is not hitting the shots but rather walking the golf courses. At The Match and the PNC Championship, he was able to use a golf cart, which will not be permitted if and when he tees it up in 2023. Harrington focused on the speed Woods has been generating, which Thomas noted as well.
"He said that at Hero: He can hit any shot he wants and obviously some days are different than others," said Thomas. "He said it himself: He has plenty of speed. He 100% hits it farther than I do with the driver right now, and when he's feeling well and moving well like he was [at the PNC], he can do anything he wants. So, it's nice that he has a cart and is able to enjoy this week."
But what about 2023? What about the Genesis Invitational and the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players Championship and the Masters when that metaphorical crutch is removed and Woods has to get around for up to 72 holes on a leg that will never be 100% again? Will he even be able to compete without the coveted reps he so often mentions?
Even Tiger doesn't know.
"No, not yet," said Woods when he was asked if he could predict what 2023 could look like. "Because if I didn't have the plantar feeling like this, then yes, I could tell you that and I'd have a better idea. But I'm supposed to be resting this thing and stretching and letting it heal. But I'm not doing that at the moment."
There are several problems; perhaps the biggest is that Woods turns 47 this week. Yes, he's fit. Yes, he can still swing it. Yes, he's Tiger Woods. But 47 is 47, and his age is certainly not helping his leg heal.
What doesn't really make sense is the pervasive notion that Woods can be competitive at the majors and perhaps even contend to win one. He didn't come anywhere close to that in 2022 (47th, withdrawal, missed cut), and any incremental improvement in the health of his leg is likely to be offset by his aging body. (Remember, his back isn't exactly in peak condition, either.)
There is just not a clear path to Woods being healthy enough to put in the necessary work that would make him sharp enough to win a 16th major championship.
The tension between his skill (still extraordinarily high) and his physical capability (all over the map) will be the story when it comes to Woods in 2023. It will likely follow him for the rest of his career. The fact that his primary contemporary, Phil Mickelson, won a major at age 50 will only contribute to the hoopla. Winning golf tournaments -- especially the ones Woods plays -- at age 47 is extremely challenging, bordering on impossible. Doing so with a body as busted as Woods' exacerbates that difficulty.
So while we will see more of Tiger in 2023, and his presence will be a good thing given the PGA Tour's ongoing rivalry with LIV Golf, December was not an indicator that we will see more of Woods doing what he's done throughout his career: contending to win high-level golf tournaments. Those days are almost certainly over, and while we might get a glimpse or two contrary to that over the next 12 months (or beyond), these last few weeks were a reminder of where Woods is at and what lies ahead.
- Feb. 16-19: The Genesis Invitational
- March 9-12: The Players Championship
- April 6-9: The Masters
- May 18-21: PGA Championship
- June 15-18: U.S. Open
- July 20-23: The Open Championship