But history suggests that even if he was hurting he would not say so. In Dubai in February, Woods appeared to be moving gingerly but said he felt fine physically. The next day he withdrew from the tournament, and a little more than two months later he underwent a fourth back operation.
And Woods didn’t reveal that he was struggling physically at last year’s event until his pretournament interview here on Tuesday. He has always been loath to acknowledge any cracks in his armor, keeping any frailties — physical, mental or psychic — largely to himself. Consider his arrest for driving under the influence in May, a month after his back fusion surgery.
The situation presented Woods with a platform for a meaningful conversation about the misuse of prescription medication. But when Woods was asked Tuesday how the “traumatic” events of this year have changed him, he steered his answer around the vulnerabilities that make him fully human.
“I always thought that I was tough mentally,” he said. “My dad always thought so as well. Going through all this just reaffirmed that.”
His father, Earl, also drilled into his head that winning is what matters. So it was heartening, at least, to see Woods diverging from that script and reveling in the journey.
Before his opening 69, Woods said he offered a silent nod of gratitude for all the people — including his surgeon and, presumably, those he encountered during his brief stay in rehab this summer — who had helped make possible his latest comeback.
To borrow one of Woods’s favorite words, it was neat to see him make his way around the Albany golf course here with his eyes, ears and heart open. After briefly vaulting into the lead during his second-round 68, Woods said he was humbled by the support of fans, both in his gallery and on social media.
“It’s very flattering,” he added, “that so many people really enjoyed what I’ve done throughout my first 20 years on Tour.”
Woods’s gallery on Sunday included the top-ranked men’s tennis player, Rafael Nadal. “Tiger is incredible,” Nadal said. “I just love to see him play.”
In 2016, Woods finished this event with 24 birdies. But he also recorded six double bogeys….