ALBANY, Bahamas — Kobe Bryant was a rookie for the Los Angeles Lakers when Tiger Woods said, “Hello, world” in the fall of 1996.
Both were freakishly athletic specimens for their sport — Bryant a sinewy shooting guard who attacked the league straight out of high school at 18 years old, Woods a specimen of power, precision, perfection and touch who was already the best in his game right from the start.
Bryant turned 37 in August, Woods will turn 40 in December. Each is admittedly a shadow of their past physical self. The former announced earlier this week that this will be his last season, the latter said on Tuesday that he isn’t sure when he will be back.
“I have no answer for that. Neither does my surgeon or my physio,” Woods said from Albany Golf Club, site of this week’s Hero World Challenge, a tournament which benefits his foundation but one in which he won’t be playing in after undergoing a third microdiscectomy on his back last month. “There is no timetable. There is nothing I can look forward to, nothing I can build towards.”
Woods has yet to begin rehab after undergoing a third microdiscectomy surgery last month. In describing what physical activity he can do at the moment he said, “I walk. And I walk. … I’m just walking, and that’s it.”
The rest of his time is spent playing video games and around his kids, though Woods said he is unable to bend over to pick up a soccer ball with them.
“I would like to be able to get to that first,” he said. “If I can get to that, then we can start talking about golf.”
Woods hasn’t played golf since August, when he tied for 10th at the Wyndham Championship. He failed to qualify for the FedExCup Playoffs, but it was his best finish of the year, which was a bit ironic.
The entire week Woods was bothered by pain in his hip. It turned out to be his back that was causing the discomfort, however, and in mid-September he underwent a second surgery in less than two years.
Six weeks later came a third procedure in the same area as the first two.
Of Bryant, Woods said that 20 years of the NBA takes its toll on the body. “At his position, I mean, he was a flyer,” Woods said. “You only have so many jumps in the body, and on top of that, only so many landings.”
Or so many microdiscectomys.
When will Woods be back?
“There is no timetable for this and that’s been the hardest mindset adjustment is that I don’t know,” he said. “Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? I don’t know, so that’s been hard.
“But also I had to reset the clock each and every day and OK, here we go, this is a new day and this is taken for what it is. I listen to my surgeon, I listen to my physios, and we just take it day by day. Hopefully the day‑by‑day adds up to something positive here soon.”
There has been little of that in recent years.
Woods hasn’t won since 2013. The following year he was limited to just seven starts because of injury. And in 2015, just when he started to show signs of another swing change starting to take root, his back was besieged by injury again.
When Bryant announced that this will be his final season, he penned a poem in The Players Tribune that said his heart can take the pounding, his mind could handle the grind but that his body knows it’s time to say goodbye.
The good news for Woods is that golf isn’t the rigor that basketball is — even if Woods attacked his game the same way Bryant did his. Vijay Singh won 22 times in his 40s. Davis Love III won this year’s Wyndham Championship at the age of 51. Woods is still committed to returning when his body will allow him.
But perhaps the most telling thing Woods said Tuesday was when he was asked if he would be at peace with his career if he never won another golf tournament.
“I think pretty much everything beyond this has been ‑‑ will be gravy,” said Woods, who has 14 career majors among his 79 PGA TOUR victories. “I’ve passed Jack (Nicklaus) in the all‑time win list, just shy of Sam (Snead). I passed Sam basically a decade ago in major championships but I’m still shy of Jack’s. So I’ve had a pretty good career for my 20s and 30s. For my 20 years out here I think I’ve achieved a lot, and if that’s all it entails, then I’ve had a pretty good run.
“But I’m hoping that’s not it. I’m hoping that I can get back out here and compete against these guys. I really do miss it.”