Source pegs Woods' return for British Open as 50-50

A source close to Tiger Woods put the odds of Woods returning at the Open Championship as 50-50.

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Royal Liverpool GC, Hoylake, England

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Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday.

• Tiger Woods’ return to competition from March 31 microdiscectomy surgery is on schedule for sometime this summer, as originally expected, Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg said Wednesday. For what it’s worth, summer officially starts Saturday and ends Sept. 22.

“Nothing changed on that,” Steinberg said of a summer comeback. “He’s on the exact path we had hoped for and is progressing well.”

Woods reportedly is making full swings with all clubs again in practice. Steinberg said he didn’t know that for sure, but he painted a positive picture of improvement.

“He extends his swing each day and he’s taking more and more swings every day that goes by,” Steinberg said. “He’s had zero setbacks and progressing as we had anticipated. Doctors are allowing him to do more and more.”

Steinberg said an exact return date is uncertain.

“We’re not going to be putting out when he expects to be back because there’s no benefit to that,” Steinberg said. “He’ll be back when he feels he’s ready and can compete.”

At this point, probably no one knows for sure what tournament he’ll play next–not Woods, not his doctors. Woods’ modus operandi generally has been to come back when he thinks he’s ready to contend for a trophy. You can be sure he won’t play if he thinks 40th is the best he can do.

In recent weeks, I’ve heard some wonder whether Woods would even play again this year. You can forget about that.

Woods has been chipping for a couple of months and has been hitting full sand-wedge shots for a couple of weeks, someone familiar with his practice said.

One person who knows Woods well said despite the uncertainty, it’s sensible to imagine the return odds being something like 50-50 for the July 17-20 Open Championship at Hoylake, England, 75-25 percent for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational that ends Aug. 3 and 100 percent for the Aug. 7-10 PGA Championship. It’s no secret Woods would like to play at Royal Liverpool, because he won the 2006 Open there.

Woods has not competed since March 9. He had the surgery to deal with a recurring pinched back nerve three weeks later. He has played only three PGA Tour events this season, with earnings of $86,919 and a best finish of T-25 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

• How will Woods, now 38, fare once he starts competing regularly again? I’d be stunned if he didn’t return to an elite level and stay there for years.

If the likes of Henrik Stenson, Erik Compton and J.B. Holmes can return from hardship and excel, there’s no reason Woods can’t.

• Lucy Li, who is 11 but could pass for 9, qualified for this week’s U.S. Women’s Open. That has prompted debate on whether she is too young to play in the crown jewel of women’s golf.

There’s a school of thought that this isn’t beneficial to her long-term health, that this experience could prove to be detrimental later on, that such tournaments should have an age limit. One take on the Internet even suggested that letting her speak at a news conference Tuesday was akin to child abuse.

Thing is, she is not turning professional. She’s not going on tour. This is a one-off. Because she qualified on her own merits, she should be able to play. She’s a sharp girl who achieved something remarkable.

So let’s stop worrying so much about her future and wish her a happy present. Let’s allow her to play and have fun at Pinehurst with her golf and her family because she earned that right.

• The way runaway Open champion Martin Kaymer hit his irons and putted at Pinehurst – the latter not only while on the greens but sometimes from several yards off – you figure he has a good chance of playing well next month at linksy Royal Liverpool.

Not that the Germanator knew anything about the venue Sunday night.

Remarkably, he said this of the Open Championship site after winning: “I don’t know the golf course. I’m sure it’s going to be some kind of links course, but I have no idea.”

He does have the idea that he likes those kind of tough courses – ones that play fast and put a premium on hitting precision drives and approaches. Places, he said, “where there’s not much room for error.”

• Kaymer ranks No. 1 on Tour in total driving and is third in all-around. We saw at TPC Sawgrass, where he won The Players Championship last month, that he’s brilliant out of the sand. If he needs to improve anything, perhaps it’s chipping and pitching.

He avoided wedging around the turtle-back greens of Pinehurst No. 2; rather, he routinely putted up ramps to reduce the probability of making high numbers. Another reason he perhaps relied on the Texas wedge is that he ranks 163rd in Tour scrambling, and that’s even factoring in his ranking of 46th in sand saves.

• U.S. Open co-runner-up Erik Compton has said he would like to be known as a golfer. I understand where he’s coming from, but I don’t think he needs to worry about that for this reason: He has had three top-5 finishes on the PGA Tour since mid-March. That screams golfer.

His father Peter said it would be nice if Compton’s health issues someday are put in a “and by the way” postscript category. So here goes: And by the way, Compton happens to be a double-heart-transplant recipient.

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