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Tiger Woods Without Crutches Makes Us Ask: What's Next?

Whether Tiger returns to golf on the PGA Tour or a cart at home is anyone’s guess. But we can be sure every bit of energy is working toward a return next spring at the Masters, writes Morning Read's Mike Purkey.

Update: Tiger Woods is swinging a golf club again. This was posted to his Twitter account on Sunday, Nov. 21:

A Tiger Woods sighting outside the confines of a golf championship generally doesn’t merit a great deal of notice. But when he was seen last weekend at a golf tournament in which his son Charlie was playing, standing without crutches, no cast on his right leg and a golf club in his hand, millions of people sat up.

Woods has been almost entirely out of public view in the nearly eight months since he rolled and crashed a rental SUV at high speed in the early morning of Feb. 23, about 30 miles southwest of Los Angeles. His right leg was broken in multiple places and his right ankle was crushed, requiring multiple surgeries with steel rods and pins to put him back together.

A few people, including doctors, wondered if he’d ever walk normally again. Many have postulated that his golf career is probably over. And if chasing 12-year-old Charlie around to golf tournaments is as close as he gets to returning to the game, that should be enough — for him and for the rest of us.

But no one has ever gone broke betting on Tiger to improbably or impossibly rise from the ashes yet again. At age 45, he does have time and a surgically repaired back working against him but don’t forget that he did win a U.S. Open on a broken leg.

Woods has been pushing himself during physical therapy, according to a report in People Magazine, trying to find and surpass his body’s limits. But he’s far from recovered.

Where a healthy Tiger Woods might play in early 2022

Farmers Insurance Open (Jan. 26-29). How likely: Not. Would take a medical miracle

Genesis Invitational (Feb. 17-20): How likely: Unlikely. More likely to be there as host.

Players Championship (March 10-13). How likely: Maybe? Getting a little warmer.

Masters (April 7-10). How likely: If he is able to walk 18 holes at Augusta National, this is the betting favorite.

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"He says that the pain is very manageable now," says the magazine’s source. "For the first couple months, he'd just be sitting at home with his leg up, and it would be throbbing and he'd be in so much pain. Now he still has pain, but it's nothing like what he dealt with before. He's feeling strong and healthy and optimistic that he'll be able to return to tour."

That’s especially concerning because of the way Tiger has historically managed pain, which is to say addictive opioid painkillers on top of sleep medication. But he’ll never admit that to anyone but his closest friends, maybe not to anyone at all.

Tiger’s brain was overloaded by his father to never show any weakness to his opponents, real or imagined. It’s ingrained to the point that it’s part of his DNA. But he should be miles past caring about that because most of his weaknesses have been made public, anyway, by his own actions.

It has been 25 years since Woods’ first PGA Tour victory and in that quarter century, the highs and lows of his of his career have been equally legendary. Whether he’s the greatest player ever will always be up for debate but nearly everyone agrees that no one commanded the game inside the ropes like Woods has.

However, it’s outside the game that Tiger’s legacy is complicated at best. It’s clear that he’s deeply flawed and equally troubled. From a collision in reverse with a fire hydrant to his incredibly awkward televised admission of his infidelities to the indelible image of his mugshot after a DWI arrest that found five different drugs in his bloodstream, fans and observers of the game are left wondering which aspect of Tiger should weigh more.

Devoted Tiger fans and equally ardent Tiger haters exist in an uneasy and uncomfortable space in the golf landscape, which makes him unlike any other great player of an era. The controversy and disagreement about who Woods is, inside and out, resonates among the generation that has watched him closely for his entire career.

Today’s young professional golfers have gone to great lengths to say that Tiger is worlds more open and welcoming to them than he ever was to his contemporaries. He was a playing captain at the 2019 Presidents Cup and reports say he was highly involved from home with this year’s Ryder Cup captains and players. One day soon, perhaps in 2025, he will be the Ryder Cup captain.

Until then, not one soul doubts that Woods’ first goal is to play again. Whether the outcome is PGA Tour golf or riding in a cart at home is anyone’s guess. But it’s a dead lock that every minute of physical therapy and every ounce of his energy is working toward the anticipated first tee announcement on the Thursday of the second week in April next spring: “Now driving, Tiger Woods.”

We may never know exactly what happened to cause that wreck — or, most importantly, what occurred in the hours that led up to it. It’s the essence of the mystery of Tiger, that no one can ever hope to solve.