What comes next for Tiger Woods, no one knows

ORLANDO, Florida – Not knowing exactly how this week would go, Joe LaCava decided to head to Florida a few days earlier. After a year of virtual inactivity, Tiger Woods’ caddy wanted to get out of the house. Playing golf with his son, Joe Jr., and soaking up the sun made perfect sense.

For the first time in a year, LaCava was back where he felt best, on the ropes with Woods and feeling at home. He knows times like last weekend at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club could be fleeting.

“I would love to do this more than once a year,” he joked.

The sad reality, of course, is that the next time he and Woods are in a formal working relationship together, it might take some time. As good as Woods has watched the PNC Championship this week playing with his son, Charlie – and finishing second with two strokes behind John Daly and his son, John II – the reality is he’s far from ready to compete. in PGA Tour Events.

The swing looks great, the speed will return, but one of the basic concepts associated with the game – walking – is going to take some time. Woods knows it. LaCava can see that too, although he was happy to witness so many smiles, so many good shots, especially in a Sunday effort that became a lot more competitive than we thought.

“I don’t mean shocked, but I’m a little pleasantly surprised,” LaCava said. “Lots of quality long iron shots. Short play is a mid-season form. Good touch. Good distance control on shots at 60, 70 and 80 yards.

“Obviously, physically you can see he’s in a lot of pain. He’s not even close to being there yet, to be able to walk on a golf course and play at that level. But in terms of golf, a lot of the everything. It doesn’t. I haven’t regained the speed and strength yet. JT [Justin Thomas] hit him 30, 40 [yards] passed him sometimes [on Saturday]. But I think it will come when he regains some stamina. ”

LaCava was able to ply his trade a few times in 2021 as Woods recovered from car crash injuries that made golf an afterthought. LaCava was twice caddy for his former boss, Fred Couples, on the PGA Tour Champions. He was an emergency replacement caddy for Patrick Cantlay at the Northern Trust. He noted, in self-mockery, that this is the only FedEx Cup playoff event that the PGA Tour Player of the Year has not won.

It was another light season for what was supposed to be his 11th caddy year for Woods, dating back to the fall of 2011, when Woods coaxed LaCava away from Dustin Johnson. LaCava had a simple answer as to why he left Johnson for Woods: “It’s Tiger Woods.”

It’s hard to imagine anyone being more loyal. Woods has a lot of people on his side who have supported him through various difficult times, but LaCava did so despite openings from many other players who would have gladly brought him in and allowed him to return to the arena he did. love.

But LaCava always politely said no. He accepted these concerts this summer just to occupy himself and as a favor. But there was never a known effort to get him to leave Woods.

LaCava stayed there as Woods missed all of the 2016 and 2017 seasons. He made the triumphant return in 2018 at 19, then saw another limited schedule in 2020 due to the pandemic and Woods’ back problems that have resurfaced, which led to another procedure a year ago.

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Charlie Woods hits a fantastic workout in the PNC Championship, then echoes his dad with a club whirlwind afterwards.

After this procedure, everyone was waiting to see what was to come next – although soon none of that mattered. The car crash of February 23 made any talk about golf meaningless. The fact that Woods competed this weekend with limited ability is nothing short of remarkable.

LaCava said he spent twice a week with Woods in Florida last year – once in April and again in late July. The idea was simply to provide friendship and support. For the April visit, Woods was more or less bedridden, with very little mobility at the time.

The jump at this point has been astounding.

“In terms of shots and all that, he’s not that far,” said Thomas, who played with Woods at home and in the first round here on Saturday. “But as far as being able to compete and walk 72 holes for weeks in a row, yes, that’s another story and he’s the only one who can answer that.”

So far, Woods’ response is that he’s not close. How far away will remain a mystery. Woods said after Sunday’s final round that there was a lot of work to be done, even though he looked ready to take it on.

Lee Trevino, the 82-year-old legend who played in the tournament for a quarter of a century, organized an impromptu training session with Tiger and Charlie after Friday’s pro-am and appeared to suggest he had gleaned some ideas. of Tiger – none of which he would share.

“I know when he’s going to play and when he’s not,” Trevino said. “He’s told me all this before. He and I are good buddies. I’ve known him since he was 8 years old. Appreciate him very much. I know what he’s going through. I had these back operations. and all that. No matter what time limit you give him, he’ll beat her. ”

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Charlie Woods rams the eagle on the third hole of Sunday’s PNC Championship.

The conjecture will now be relentless.

When will Tiger be back? Will he post videos of his swing, the walk of the Medalist course where he plays? Are the Masters too early?

“Everyone wants to talk about Augusta, but it’s the toughest walk of the year, isn’t it?” Said three-time Masters winner Nick Faldo.

Woods is far from that, which makes the Masters the ultimate reach. Summer is a better guess, but even that could prove elusive. Woods has not disclosed the degree of his foot and ankle injuries, the real issues moving forward. Maybe it’s not just about making him work that, as he’s been inclined to do in the past.

Walking an 18-hole course seems like the first goal – and it’s not yet possible. So where is the 72-hole step? Or 90, as would be required in a normal week with training? How about standing for five hours straight, firing shots under duress?

This may take some time. It needs patience.

LaCava, with nothing more than a guess, said he expected it to be 18 months from the time of the crash until Woods was ready. That puts it in August. Who knows?

What LaCava does know is that he didn’t see Woods hit any punches until Friday’s pro-am. He didn’t see any video of Woods practicing in the Bahamas or the guesswork on how fast or slow he would come back.

He just knew Tiger had said he was returning with his son to an event they had enjoyed last year. LaCava was on board to see how it went.

“I get a lot more positive energy than negative energy, to be honest with you,” LaCava said. “I don’t know if he has a happy face to me. I would like to think he’s like that most of the time when I’m not around. He’s been very positive the whole process.”

Woods looked happy on Sunday. It was a fiery effort from him and Charlie. And although he spent most of the weekend in a cart, he got out to run the remaining 200 yards to the last green.

It was the real victory this week.

When we see it in this setting, it’ll probably be a good time in the future. LaCava will be there, patiently waiting, as always.

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