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MCCARTHY: Tiger Woods fights to return after car crash severely injured leg

Tiger Woods holds his first press conference since his Feb. 23 car crash in Los Angeles at the Hero World Challenge golf tournament in Nassau, Bahamas, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021.

Picture an injured Tiger Woods hobbling to the yard of his Florida home just to feel the touch of grass on his skin.

“Sometimes I’d just crutch and lay on the grass for an hour because I want to be outside,” Woods told Golf Digest‘s Henni Koyack in a 40-minute interview released Monday.

That happened. So did the car crash. So did the 10 surgeries before the accident. So did the 2019 Masters win. So did the 82 PGA Tour wins. So did everything else that seemed impossible to imagine before Woods came along.

In his first public appearances since the February collision, Woods described what it was like spending three weeks in the hospital, and three months in a hospital bed at home following the crash that threatened to have his right leg amputated.

“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 from the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas on Tuesday. “That was a goal of mine. Especially for a person who has lived his entire life outside, that was the goal.”

Now back on his feet, but admittedly in pain simply sitting for his first press conference since the accident, Tiger’s future goals on the golf course were made slightly more clear. In Monday’s interview with Golf Digest, Woods said his days as a full-time tour player are unequivocally over, but didn’t rule out playing select events much like Ben Hogan did following his 1949 car crash.

“After my back fusion, I had to climb Mount Everest one more time,” he said. “I had to do it, and I did. This time around, I don’t think I’ll have the body to climb Mount Everest and that’s OK.”

On Tuesday, Woods reiterated his plan, strongly hinting that another limited comeback is indeed in the cards.

“To ramp up for a few events a year as I alluded to yesterday as Mr. Hogan did, he did a pretty good job of it, and there’s no reason that I can’t do that and feel ready,” he said.

That comment immediately had people jumping to guess where he might make his return. Will it miraculously be two weeks from now at the 36-hole, cart-friendly, father-son PNC Championship where he looked so happy with son Charlie last year? Perhaps it will be the Masters in April, or the Open Championship at St Andrews in July?

“I would love to be able to play that Open Championship, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “Physically, hopefully I can. I’ve got to get there first.”

There’s a big difference between preparing for a hit-and-giggle event with his son and taking on the best in the world at a major championship. And for the first time in his life there is reason to believe his desire to climb the mountain has waned.

“I don’t foresee this leg ever being what it used to be, hence I’ll never have my back what it used to be, and clock’s ticking,” he said. “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.”

Throughout both interviews, what jumps out is how at peace Woods seems with his current situation. Even before his accident, there was a sense that the game’s most intense competitor had found joy in finally taking his foot off the gas pedal. The Tiger we’ve seen following his unlikely 2019 Masters win, and this week, seems happy to wrap himself in the warm blanket of nostalgia. He was asked if it’s hard to potentially have his career ended by injury and not on his own terms.

“No, it’s very easy, given the fact that I was able to come back after the fusion surgery and do what I did,” he said. “I got that last major and I ticked off two more events along the way.”

Who are we to argue?

What we’re witnessing is Tiger happy to see a future that he can enjoy. In many ways this fulfilled Tiger is the one we blamed him for not being his entire life, despite secretly admiring the never satisfied cut-throat version that perpetually ran himself into the ground.

Turning 46 at the end of the year, the golf world is hoping for another grueling comeback attempt, but there’s one last person who needs convincing.

“We had a talk within the family, all of us sat down and said if this leg cooperates and I get to a point where I can play the tour, is it OK with you guys if I try and do it. The consensus was yes,” he said. “Internally, I haven’t reached that point. … I haven’t decided whether or not I want to get to that point. I’ve got to get my leg to a point where that decision can be made. And we’ll see what happens when I get to that point, but I’ve got a long way to go with this leg.”

From your back, laying on the ground, nothing looks bigger than a mountain. In the months ahead we’ll find out how badly Tiger wants one last glimpse of how small the world looks from the top.