The golfing world’s eyes are trained on the Hero World Challenge, which begins this week in the Bahamas. In April, Tiger Woods underwent his fourth back surgery in three years, and he now appears pain-free and ready to compete.
Woods has not played competitive golf since February, when he bowed out of the Dubai Desert Classic before the second round after experiencing severe back spasms. After his previous back surgery, he was out for 15 months.
Videos posted on Twitter show Woods in impressive form, with no hint of the back problems that have been plaguing him since 2014, when he injured himself during the Honda Classic at the PGA National Golf Club (Palm Beach Gardens, USA).
Professional golfer Brad Faxon, writing for Golf Week over the weekend, said that he played a round with US President Donald Trump, current World Number 1 Dustin Johnson, and Woods.
“Tiger looked great to me. He was happy and, more than anything, he’s finally pain-free. The issues he had with the back the last couple of comebacks seem to be gone,” said Faxon.
“He looked effortless, he looked free, he had some power. I was impressed with how far he hit the ball.”
But while there is much hype about Tiger Woods’ fitness and his enthusiasm for a return to the course, not all are so optimistic. Golf Digest reports that their experts are concerned that Woods will do more damage to his back by returning to golf too soon.
A common side-effect of lumbar fusion is adjacent segment degeneration (ASD), the incidence of which has been reported to occur in up to 30% surgeries. A competitive golf swing requires a significant amount of rotation of the back.
Fitness advisor to Golf Digest Ralph Simpson told the publication, “Stress like that, caused by the way most people make a golf swing, breaks down the discs. The segment that was fused obviously can’t rotate much at all, so the ones next to it will have to pick up the slack.”
“And keep in mind these discs are likely to already have degenerative changes from a lifetime of golf,” he added.
Long-time friend and fellow professional golfer David Love III told the New York Post he is excited for Woods’ return, but is more hopeful that Woods will not injure himself further.
“He has to ignore everybody else because they expect him to do it at Hero next week, to shoot 65, and everyone said, ‘Tiger Woods is back.’ I’m looking at it as like, ‘Please, Lord, just let him be healthy and play a full tournament,’” Love told the Post.
Woods has also undergone knee surgery—he returned in 2009 after two surgeries in 2008—and won The Players Championship in 2013 despite sustaining an injury to his elbow during the tournament, which caused him to take the following two months off.
The Hero World Challenge will be held 30 November–2 December, at the Albany Golf Course on the island of New Providence in The Bahamas.