When will golf fans see Tiger Woods next?
It was a question with an uncertain answer even before Wednesday’s news that the 15-time major champion underwent yet another surgery on his right leg that was nearly amputated after a single-car accident in February 2021.
Tiger Woods had a subtalar fusion to his right foot to alleviate pain from the arthritis that developed after the crash. Dr. Bill Mallon, an orthopaedic surgeon who also played on the PGA Tour from 1975-1979, has commented on golf injuries in the past, and accurately predicted the long-term risk of Woods developing arthritis around the injury. Dr. Mallon – @bambam1729 on Twitter – shared an informative thread that broke down Woods’ latest surgery and noted that if this same injury and procedure were to occur in his left leg, it would be career ending.
OK, so Tiger Woods had a subtalar fusion to his right foot today, to alleviate the pain from the arthritis that developed after his car crash in January 2021. What exactly is that, why did he have it done, and what can be expected from it? 1/n
— Bill Mallon (@bambam1729) April 19, 2023
According to Dr. Mallon, “The surgery is done by denuding the joint surfaces of their cartilage, roughening up the bone ends, adding bone graft, and then stabilizing the fusion, usually with screws, or sometimes a plate and screws.”
Woods often refers to the various plates, rods and screws currently holding together his leg as “hardware.”
“I’m very lucky to have this leg; it’s mine,” said Woods in his press conference before the Masters earlier this month. “Yes, it had been altered and there’s some hardware in there, but it’s still mine. It has been tough and will always be tough. The ability and endurance of what my leg will do going forward will never be the same. I understand that.”
When asked how much hardware is in there, Woods could only laugh and say, “There’s a lot.”
Dr. Mallon believes Woods will be able to compete again, but that won’t be for “at least 6 months to a year.”
Assuming the rest of the 2023 major schedule is out of the question, that puts three events in the spotlight where Woods could return to competition: the Hero World Challenge (December 2023), the PNC Championship (Dec. 15-18, 2023) and the Masters (April 2024).
It might be a bit of a rush for Woods to tee it up in either of the silly-season December events, but both are special to him for different reasons. The Hero benefits his TGR Foundation, and the PNC is where he gets to play with his son, Charlie. Woods played the PGA Tour’s Genesis Invitational – which also benefits his foundation – earlier this year, and finished T-45. With the Tour’s schedule in flux due to the various changes made with regard to the addition of designated events, it’s unknown where the Genesis will fall on the 2024 schedule. That leaves the Masters, and if anyone can find a way to make the cut at Augusta National with little-to-no live tournament reps, it’s the five-time winner of the green jacket.
Wherever and whenever he returns, fans need to keep their expectations in check. While Woods has shown he can still hit the necessary shots to make cuts and be competitive among the world’s best, he’s also shown the toll just teeing it up can take.