Tiger Woods is hitting full shots on the range again, more than two months after playing his last competitive round at the PGA Championship and saying he would take time to let his ailing back heal.
Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg, said in a text message that Woods is “still listening to his doctors. Hitting balls and doing as much as he feels good with.”
The former world No. 1, who had back surgery on March 31, returned to competition in June but played just four events before another back issue sidelined him again. He withdrew during the final round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and a week later missed the cut at the PGA Championship, playing his last round on Aug. 8.
Several days later, Woods took himself out of consideration for a possible at-large pick for the U.S. Ryder Cup team and said he would be shutting it down until his annual fundraising event for the Tiger Woods Foundation, the Hero World Challenge, Dec. 4-7.
Barring any setbacks, Woods is expected to return to competition at that event, which features an 18-player field and will be played at Isleworth in Orlando, Florida.
Woods didn’t resume hitting full shots until last week.
“The design was to start making golf swings either late September or early October, then if I started early October I’d have two full months to prepare to play the Hero World Challenge,” Woods said on Sept. 15 at a media day to promote the tournament. “I’m right on that timeline, so that’s perfect.”
Woods played in just eight tournaments worldwide in 2014, shutting it down for the first time following the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral — where he happened to post his best finish, a tie for 25th.
The March surgery was called a microdiscectomy and was to alleviate a pinched nerve. His return in late June for the Quicken Loans National — an event from which his foundation also benefits — was deemed quick. Woods missed the cut and then didn’t play again until the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool three weeks later. He finished 69th — his worst 72-hole result in a major championship as a pro.
Two weeks later, he played the WGC-Bridgestone but withdrew following a tee shot at the ninth hole of the final round, citing lower back pain that he later said was unrelated to the surgery. Woods said he jarred his back when falling awkwardly into a fairway bunker early in the round.
After rest and rehab, Woods attempted to play the PGA the following week but was clearly in distress. He missed the cut in a major for just the fourth time as a pro.
Asked last month if he returned too soon from his initial surgery, Woods said he had no regrets.
“I felt good enough to do it, and the only unfortunate part is I couldn’t maintain the conditioning,” he said. “So as the tournament would wear on, I would get more and more fatigued and tired, and I wasn’t as explosive, I wasn’t as strong. Eventually the game started to deteriorate a little bit because physically I wasn’t in good enough shape to maintain it.”
Woods, who began the year ranked No. 1 in the world, has slipped to 17th due to the poor results and inactivity. The lowest he has been since first going to No. 1 in 1997 was 58th in 2011, also following a lengthy layoff due to injury.