Tiger Woods turned 40 years old this past December, which has many of us who have followed him since his amateur days asking ourselves where in the world the past 25 years have gone?
His last major championship title came nearly eight years ago. That was three months before the world financial crises, six months before Barack Obama was elected president and three years before Jordan Spieth would even graduate from high school.
Woods’ last PGA Tour victory came two-and-a-half years, a case of the chipping yips and three back surgeries ago.
So it comes as no surprise that the word “was” has now become synonymous with Woods and that more than a few writers and analysts have already begun writing Woods’ career obituary.
But while all signs certainly point toward a career that is, at best, nearing its twilight years, it may be a bit premature to start throwing dirt on the 14-time major champion’s career grave.
Woods will likely be re-joining the PGA Tour sometime in the next couple of months.
His agent, Mark Steinberg, told ESPN that his client will be back on the golf course sometime this year.
Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte recently reported that Woods has begun ramping up his practice regime and could return as soon as the Wells Fargo Championship, which begins on May 5.
And just this past Friday, the Shreveport Times (h/t Golf Channel) posted video footage of Woods taking full swings at a junior clinic in South Carolina.
The success of this particular comeback, like most of Woods’ other comebacks through the years, will hinge almost solely on the state of his physical health.
If Woods continues to struggle with his back, knee, neck, Achilles tendon or any other part of his body that has failed him over the past eight years, then those career obituaries that have already been written will remain accurate.
But if Woods has indeed taken enough time away from the game and returns to the course with an even somewhat healthy body, what reason do we have to believe that Woods cannot once again win golf tournaments?
The last time Woods was actually healthy was during a two-year stretch between 2012 and 2013, where he won eight times, including two World Golf Championship events and the 2013 Players Championship.
Five of those eight wins came during the 2013 season alone. Just to put some perspective on that accomplishment, during the past 30 years, only four players have won five or more PGA Tour events during a single season. Both Spieth and Jason Day joined Woods and Vijay Singh on this exclusive list last year.
Woods ranked second in total strokes gained between 2012 and 2013, ranked second in scoring average both years, won the PGA Tour Player of the Year award in 2013 and finished off the year as the No. 1-ranked player in the world.
Woods did not manage to capture his 15th major championship title between 2012 and 2013, but he was a factor at several majors, posting three finishes of tied for sixth or better.
So it was not long ago that Woods once again came rather close to dominating the professional game during an extended period of time.
Woods’ back issues arose in a public manner during the early stages of the 2014 season, and he underwent his first microdiscectomy surgery that April.
The former world No. 1 did play 18 events between 2014 and 2015, but it was obvious that he was struggling with back pain for much of this time, and anyone who has ever suffered a back injury will know just how debilitating it can be to your everyday life, let alone your ability to swing a golf club at 120 mph.
So while it is clear that Woods’ physical health was in a poor state during 2014 and 2015, there is little that we can ascertain about the health of his golf game during this period of time.
It would be quite foolish to analyze Woods’ on-course performance through 2014-2015 and determine that his game had deteriorated just because his body, at that time, did not allow him to perform at an elite level.
Now, this article is by no means predicting that by some miracle the Woods of 2000 will show up and starting winning multiple major championships again.
That Woods ceased to exist many years ago.
Woods is 40 years old, has suffered numerous injuries since his last major title, battled a case of the chipping yips early last season and is coming off of three major back surgeries.
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Woods’ close friend, Michael Jordan, even weighed in on the matter during an interview conducted for a recent ESPN story on Woods when he said: “The thing is, I love him so much that I can’t tell him, ‘You’re not gonna be great again.’”
“Great” is of course a subjective word, and if one defines “great” as winning multiple major championships during a single season as Woods did numerous times earlier in his career, then no, it is unlikely that Woods will ever be “great” again.
But it would be also unwise to conclude that Woods is done and will never win again before we really know anything about the state of his physical health.
Because if Woods has shown us anything over the past four years, it’s that when he is healthy, he can still win. Certainly not at the rate he was winning back in 2000-2008, but eight wins over a two-year stretch between 2012 and 2013 is nothing to scoff at.
So unless you are Woods’ doctor, physical therapist or have somehow gained access to his medical records, you may not want to start throwing dirt on his career grave just yet.
Woods has made fools out of more than a few people who have predicted his demise through the years, and a healthy Woods may just do so again during this next comeback.