Golf legend Tiger Woods has made such a great recovery from last April’s spinal fusion surgery that many might wonder why he did not have the procedure sooner.
Woods said over the weekend, however, that he had not been prepared to risk it until he basically had no other choice if he wanted to have a chance of living pain-free and playing competitive golf again.
The former world beater lost by just one shot to Englishman Paul Casey on Monday morning (AEDT) at the Valspar Championship, just his fourth official event back after undergoing spinal fusion surgery.
World No.17 Casey shot a closing six-under par 65 to finish at 10 under 274 to win, while Woods who shot a 70 at Innisbrook Resort in Florida.
The 42-year-old Woods was the centre of attention over the weekend as he chased a first win in almost five years.
“This is uncharted territory,” Woods told reporters after moving within one stroke of the lead going into the final round.
“No one has ever had a lower lumbar fusion where I had it and come out here and played.
“I didn’t want to go there. That was last-case resort and ended up being the only option I had left.
“We exhausted all the non-surgical options. My disc was still intact so we’re trying to save the disc and I just never know with the future.”
Swinging fluidly, Woods on Saturday generated more clubhead speed than any other measured swing on the PGA Tour this year — 207 km per hour with his drive at the 14th hole at Innisbrook Resort.
On the same day, he shot an excellent 67, giving him a tournament score of eight under.
Only Canadian Corey Conners (nine under) headed Woods going into the last day.
Despite falling short in the final round, Woods has already showed he is not a spent force.
His health is a far cry from this time last year, when he says he could barely climb out of bed.
He said that during his worst times he often thought about life before his back injury.
“A lot of times I did think about it. I was hoping something to take the pain away, I should get up out of bed and walk again.
“I was living from minute to minute. You have no idea how hard it was.”
A difficult period
Woods, a 14-time major winner, announced in June last year that he was “receiving professional help” following his high-profile arrest in Florida.
The 41-year-old was arrested for driving under the influence with police, who found him asleep at the wheel, describing the golf legend as having “extremely slow and slurred speech” in an official report.
Breath tests showed Woods had not consumed alcohol, though, and he later said he had an adverse reaction to prescription drugs, including Xanax.
“I’m currently receiving professional help to manage my medications and the ways that I deal with back pain and a sleep disorder,” Woods announced.
At the same time, Woods also said he had not “felt this good in years” following the fusion surgery.
“It is hard to express how much better I feel,” he added.
Woods was the world’s top ranked golfer for 683 weeks and spent a record 261 of them in a row in the position.
His life infamously unravelled in 2009 when several allegations of infidelity led to the breakdown of his marriage but he remains one of sport’s biggest names, even if he has barely played since the end of 2013.