Christmas has passed, which means the year of golf 2022 is on the bridge. While the focus is mostly on the coming year, Tiger Woods’ performance at the 2021 PNC Championship a few weeks ago still resonates. He looked so… shocking (?) Good that it became impossible not to try and project where he could do it first in 2022. There are some very specific and obvious landing points for him in the game. new year, but one of them stands out. all – and it’s probably not what you’d expect.
But before we get to that, we should talk about a broader timeline. Obviously, what Woods says doesn’t always align with what he does (that’s the case with all professional athletes), but he noted two distinct realities when, in an injury-plagued year, he held his first press conference in the Bahamas at the Hero World Challenge in early December.
1. “I don’t foresee that this leg will ever be what it was, so I’ll never have my back again, and the clock is ticking. I’m getting older, I’m not getting any younger. All of this combined. means a full program and a full training program and the recovery it would take to do it, no, I have no desire to do it. does a good job, and there’s no reason I can’t do it and feel ready.
Tiger won’t play 20 times a year, and he probably won’t play 10 times a year. At this point in his career, at his age with the number of operations he has had, gambling 6 to 8 times a year is a ceiling that was once a floor. Here is another clue he gave.
2. “As far as playing at the Tour level, I don’t know when it’s going to happen.”
We got an answer to that – sort of – at the PNC Championship when Tiger and his son Charlie almost won the event after shooting a 57 Sunday in scramble format. It is true that Tiger was in a cart the whole time and clearly exhausted by the end of it, but he was swinging the club with amazing speed for someone who could have lost their leg 10 months earlier.
After playing together at the PNC on Sunday, Matt Kuchar did anything but declare Tiger the Masters favorite in April (he’s 40-1 according to Caesars Sportsbook, by the way).
But Tiger pushed it all off when asked about the future.
“No, no, no, no,” he said when asked if he thought Kuchar’s comments were accurate. “I totally disagree. I am not at this level. I can’t compete with these guys anymore right now, no. It’s going to take a lot of work for me to get to where I feel I can compete with these guys and be at a high level. “
He reiterated that he “will never play a full program again” and will choose his events and “even then my body might not cooperate with that”.
So that’s the context as 2021 leads to 2022. This year marked the first since 1991 that Tiger hasn’t kicked off at least one official OWGR event, and I can’t imagine, especially after seeing it at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club a few weeks ago, this streak spanned two years. There are caveats, of course. Maybe his back or knee or leg or neck or one of the myriad body parts he has cut up over the years are not cooperating and he is unable to golf at some level raised. But it became clear after watching him try to get a win with his son this Sunday in Orlando that Tiger is still here, if not winning, so in competition at the highest level in sport.
“Competitive juices, they’re never going to go away,” Woods said. “It’s my environment. It’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. I’m so grateful to have this opportunity to do it again. Earlier this year was not a very good start to the year, and he didn’t look very good. “
So where might we review competitive juices and what might Woods’ timeline look like in 2022? Once he starts playing, he will almost certainly play – on purpose – play all the major tournaments he can. But where (and when) will it start? There are 5-7 natural entries for the 15-time major winner, and here is a man’s guess based on all the evidence we have as he turns 46 later this week and takes his broken body away. (but still sharp) in a new year.
Genesis Invitational (February 17): While the symmetry of returning to the event that took place just before his gruesome crash in 2021 would be nice, it is just too early for Tiger. I’d be more surprised if he played here than I did if he played the PNC Championship with Charlie.
Arnold Palmer Invitational (March 3): If he wants to play the Masters but doesn’t want to play it as his first event (like he did in 2010 when he finished T4 at Augusta), then that’s a natural place. I don’t really buy it, however. I think we’re looking at either Masters or another event later in the year. I don’t think we’ve seen Tiger on the course until April because I don’t think he’s as concerned about rusting as he’s worried about resting and staying healthy for major championship golf. .
Masters (April 7): It’s easy to see, isn’t it? Fifteen months after the crash, Tiger joins other greats in the greatest cathedral this country has to offer. A celebration of his one-week career that is highly unlikely to end with a cut made – let alone a fight for another trophy – but it is one of the best times of the whole golf year nonetheless. Walking Augusta is a concern – especially since her first tournament is back – but it’s definitely on the line in a way I never imagined it would be just a month ago.
PGA Championship (May 19): In my head, his first return event will be either the Masters or the Open Championship, but this one is certainly doable. Six weeks is an eternity for him, so the distance between Augusta National and that second major of the year – and how healthy he can be in between – could make a decision for him.
Memorial (June 2): It would make sense if the PGA arrives too early or if he doesn’t want to fight the mighty Southern Hills. The weather will be warm enough here for him to feel confident to relax. It would also be a nice low-stakes tune-up for the final two majors of the year.
US Open (June 16): That would be a bizarre re-entry point for Tiger, who hasn’t done well at the US Open for the past decade (he hasn’t had a top 10 since 2010). I’d be surprised if he subjected his body to the tribulations necessary to fight with a US Open course and setup. If he’s already back then maybe, but I’d be stunned if this was his first tournament back.
Open Championship (July 14): The Open gives Woods the most time to heal, and the 150th edition at a location where he has already won two major championships? Come on, this is the perfect marriage of golf history and living legend. Woods was surprised in his eyes when asked recently if he is potentially returning to the Old Course in July. He knows that while his opportunities at Augusta National are greater (he can play there for the next 20 years), the window to play the Old Course at an Open is closing. As a real contender there, this one or the next – a bit later in the 2020s – will likely be his last.
It will be significant, and no matter where we see it in 2022, I imagine he will go to great lengths to ensure he makes it to Burn on July 14 with the Claret Jug in his crushing shadow. What an incredible scene that would be.