Tiger Woods on his health, future playing plans, LIV Golf and more

Sports

Golf fans will have to wait a few more weeks to watch Tiger Woods play again.

The 15-time major champion was forced to pull out of this week’s Hero World Challenge, a tournament he hosts in the Bahamas, because of plantar fasciitis in his right foot.

Woods said doctors told him that the condition is related to severe injuries he suffered to his right leg and foot in a car wreck outside Los Angeles in February 2021. Woods also revealed that he had two additional surgeries during the past year.

Woods, 46, said he still planned to play in two events next month because he can use a cart. Woods and world No. 1 golfer Rory McIlroy will battle Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas in the latest edition of The Match, which is scheduled to be played on Dec. 10 at Pelican Golf Club outside Tampa, Florida.

Woods also is slated to play with his son, Charlie, in the PNC Championship in Orlando, Florida, on Dec. 17-18.

On Tuesday, Woods met the media for the first time since the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews in July. He spoke on a plethora of topics, including his health, future plans, the PGA Tour’s ongoing battle with LIV Golf and other subjects during a 30-minute news conference in the Bahamas.

Were you surprised you weren’t able to play in the Hero World Challenge this week?

WOODS: Well, as I was ramping up and had to walk more, the worse it got. So when you get plantar fasciitis, the worst thing you can do is walk, and I was walking more and more and more, trying to get my legs ready for this event, and I just kept making it worse. So [I] had to shut it down and, unfortunately, be the host of the event and Ranger Rick out here. So I can do that.

What is your goal for next year in terms of how many tournaments you want to play?

WOODS: The goal is to play just the major championships and maybe one or two more. That’s it. I mean, physically, that’s all I can do. I told you that [at] the beginning of this year, too. I mean, I don’t have much left in this leg, so gear up for the biggest ones and hopefully, you know, lightning catches in a bottle and I’m up there in contention with a chance to win. Hopefully, I remember how to do that. But again, giving myself a chance to get out there again. As I said, I didn’t expect to play three majors this year. We were hoping for just the British Open, but I was able to get two more there, so that was a big positive.

You must have worked incredibly hard to get to the point where you could almost play here. I know you can’t play. Is there ever a part of you that thinks, “Why keep going? Why keep trying this? I’ve got nothing else to prove.”

WOODS: Well, I love competing. You know, I love sports. I’ve been playing it basically all my life. And you know, actually, I’ve been a pro for more than half my life. So If you look at it in those terms, you know, I’ve been a part of this sport and I’ve loved it. It’s just unfortunate I’m not able to do the things that I feel mentally I can do — the body just kind of rejects it. When I was at home, I was shooting 4, 5, 6, 7 under par like it was nothing, but I was in a cart. Now you add in walking and that goes away. So I need to get to that point where I can actually walk around and play that way, like all of you guys can. I’m not able to do that right now.

Does the latest setback mean you’ve regressed in your comeback?

WOODS: It’s going to take probably, you know, a month or two of rest. But also, it was the ramping-up process that did it. It’s a balancing act, right? How hard do you push it to make progress while not pushing it too hard to go off the edge and you set yourself back two, three days, and that’s been the balancing act the whole year. And trying to do that, get ready for this event, I did a lot of beach walks trying to simulate the sand out here and my foot just did not like that very much.

Would you ever consider using a golf cart in a PGA Tour event?

WOODS: On the PGA Tour? No. On the sanctioned events where it’s allowed, yes, which is the Champions Tour, PNC, things of that nature. My teammate was Casey Martin, OK, and what he did with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), I voted against it. I think [walking] is an integral part of the game at our level and I will never take a golf cart until it’s sanctioned. It’s sanctioned on the Champions Tour and the PNC is part of that. As far as a regular event, no, I would never do that.

Rory McIlroy said in a published report last week that he gave you COVID-19 shortly before the Open Championship at St. Andrews. Were you ever actually tested?

WOODS: Yeah, I got tested. I was always negative. I was feeling under the weather, yes, wasn’t feeling great the whole week, but I never got a positive test.

If you were to go back a year ago and look into the future, what kind of surprises you the most, or what didn’t you see coming?

WOODS: “Personally, for me, I was hoping to maybe play the British Open [but] ended up playing three majors, which is not too bad, all things considered. I wasn’t expecting to have a few more procedures because of playing, but that’s just the way it goes. As far as the golf ecosystem, I don’t think any of us would have foreseen it being as complicated as it is and convoluted as it has become, and the animosity from both sides. I don’t think we would’ve seen that a year ago.

Do you foresee a day when the PGA Tour and LIV Golf can coexist in the golf ecosystem?

WOODS: There’s an opportunity out there if both organizations put a stay on their litigation, but that’s the problem: They’ve got to put a stay on it. And whether or not they do that or not, there’s no willingness to negotiate if you have a litigation against you. So if they both have a stay and then have a break and then they can meet and figure something out, then maybe there is something to be had. But I think [LIV Golf CEO and commissioner] Greg [Norman] has to go, first of all, and then, obviously, litigation against us and then our countersuit against them, those would then have to be at a stay as well. So then we can talk, we can all talk freely.

Right now as it is, not right now, not with their leadership, not with Greg there and his animosity towards the tour itself. I don’t see that happening. As Rory said and I said it as well, I think Greg’s got to leave and then we can eventually, hopefully, have a stay between the two lawsuits and figure something out. But why would you change anything if you’ve got a lawsuit against you? They sued us first.

Do the sides need to come to some sort of compromise soon?

WOODS: Yeah, I don’t know whether it’s going to be me, Rory or the tour or other players being, I wouldn’t necessarily say a peacemaker, but I just think that there’s a window of opportunity for us from both tours to figure this out shortly. But I think that window’s closing just because the majors are coming up now and they’re going to have their own criteria for the majors. But if they can do it quickly before that … but again, that goes back to LIV and their lawsuit. They’re suing us first and we countersued them, so they have to back off the table, they will back off the table and then we’ll have a place to talk. But their leadership has to change as well. If that doesn’t, then I think it’s going to continue to go down the path that it’s going right now.

You and Rory McIlroy spoke to a group of PGA Tour players before the BMW Championship in Wilmington, Delaware, in August. Why do you think it was important for you to be in that meeting and what was your message to the other players?

WOODS: Well, the message is that we can’t compete dollar for dollar with [Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund], just we physically can’t do that. But what we can do is talk about better opportunities for younger players getting onto the tour, what it means to play the tour, how important it is, how important it is to have a legacy, [to] be able to win major championships.

As of right now, we don’t know where the major championships stand on this. So if you’re a tour player, you already know that you’re in the major championships, you’re in the top 50, so, OK, that’s a guarantee, but the other players don’t. They’re taking a chance of never ever, ever getting a chance to play in major championships. And so where does your legacy stand there? You know, I went on the [LIV] tour and made a lot of money, but I never got to win any tournaments that are of value that would put me in the Hall of Fame and things of that nature.

So yes, there was a lot of talk of that and ways in which we can increase purses, reward players that are more visible than others that drive the [PGA] tour, reward them, and also give better access to the tour at different ages and in different ways than we ever have in the past. So It was a long meeting, a lot of different options were put about and we all had to think about it, sit back. Then we’ve had many subsequent meetings, FaceTime meetings, trying to figure it out and make it better and also worked with the tour to try and make it better as well.

Rory has been as outspoken as you have been about LIV Golf. What do you make of his leadership on the PGA Tour?

WOODS: What Rory has said and done are what leaders do. Rory is a true leader out here on tour. The fact that he’s actually able to get the things he said out in the public eye, be so clear-minded with it and so eloquent with it; meanwhile, go out there and win golf tournaments on top of that, people have no idea how hard that is to do, to be able to separate those two things. But he’s been fantastic. He’s a great leader in our calls we make, and he’s a great leader with all the players out here. Everyone respects him and they respect him because not just his ballstriking, his driving, but the person he is.

How has the threat of LIV Golf changed the way the PGA Tour works?

WOODS: There’s been some ebb and flow, some give-and-take from players and the commissioners and their staff. I think this year more so than any other time that we’ve had the openness to be able to talk to our commissioner [Jay Monahan] and say, “These are things that we want to get better on the tour and here’s a list of them,” and priority, too. Jay sat through a lot of these meetings, a lot of the conference calls and with Rory and I talking to him too as well.

I think we made some great changes, but how do we also replenish players that have left? That’s obviously giving more opportunities for players that are coming into the game that are younger, collegiate or amateur, more access to it. The game has gotten younger, period. I mean, guys are winning majors in their mid-to-early 20s. But also we want to get younger kids coming in here and playing the game of golf and experiencing the tour and experiencing what it’s like to play in major championships and hopefully win them.

Phil Mickelson took a lot of heat for complaining about the PGA Tour. With everything that has changed on tour, including elevated purses, do you think Mickelson is owed an apology?

WOODS: No, absolutely not, no. We took out an enormous loan during the pandemic in which if we had another year of the pandemic, our tour would only be sustained for another year. We took out an enormous loan. It worked, it paid off in our benefit, hence we were able to use that money to make the increases that we’ve made.

Where do you see the battle with LIV Golf ending up?

WOODS: We don’t know. No one knows. Right now, there’s a lot of animosity, especially from their leadership. And they want to be a validated tour with world ranking points and they’re buying up tours around the world. I don’t know what their end game is. It might be just being an official member of the golf ecosystem and being recognized with world ranking points. I think that’s what their intended goal is.

You know, they’ve spent probably close to $2 billion this year. Who’s to say they can’t spend $4 [billion] or $5 billion next year? We just don’t know. It’s an endless pit of money. But that doesn’t necessarily create legacies either. You want to compare yourself to [Ben] Hogan, you want to compare yourself to [Sam] Snead, you want to compare yourself to [Jack] Nicklaus. You can’t do that over there, but you can on this tour.

Is the ongoing animosity between the tours good for golf?

WOODS: As I said, I think it has to start with leadership on their side. Understanding what is happening right now, it’s not in the best fit or future for the whole game of golf. Now, what is the best way for our game to grow? It’s not this way. But granted, you need to have the two bodies come together. If one side has so much animosity, someone trying to destroy our tour, then how do you work with that?

You’ve won the Player Impact Program two years in a row, even after playing only nine rounds in three majors this past season. What are your thoughts on PIP?

WOODS: Everything evolves. I mean, look at the FedEx [Cup] iterations we’ve had. One of the years Vijay [Singh] didn’t even have to tee it up. He didn’t even have to show up for the last tournament, our season-ending event, and he would’ve won the FedEx Cup. We’ve had different iterations of the FedEx Cup and there’s no difference with the PIP. I’m sure we’ll have different iterations of that going forward as well. There is no perfect system. You want people who drive the tour, who are most visible, and the people that watch golf because of these certain players [to] be rewarded for it. We haven’t found the perfect model for that yet and hopefully we do sometime soon. We’re still working on it.

LIV Golf is attempting to get recognition from the Official World Golf Ranking. What are your thoughts on the current OWGR?

WOODS: Yeah, OWGR, it’s a flawed system. That’s something we all here recognize. The field at [the DP World Tour Championship at] Dubai got less points than [the RSM Classic at] Sea Island and more of the top players were there in Dubai, so obviously there’s a flawed system. How do you fix it? You know, those are meetings we’re going to have to have. We’re going to have to have it with [the OWGR] committee and as the main tours that are involved in it. Somehow come up with a better system than is in place now. I remember when I had a big lead in my career, I didn’t have to play a single tournament the next year and I still would be ranked No. 1. We changed that system then. So it has been changed in the past, and I’m sure this will be changed hopefully soon.

What will you remember about the past year in men’s professional golf?

WOODS: Well, I think this whole year, it’s a year we didn’t expect to have happened — the animosity, the angst and then the players leaving, and then the way they showed their disregard or disrespect to the tour that helped them get to that point. A lot of things I certainly don’t like about it and there’s certain players that are very up front with it and have declared it, and I respect them for that. But there’s also a flip side to that, too, that I thought was a little bit on the tasteless side.

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