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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Tiger Woods on the road to recovery again or is he just teasing us to remain relevant?

Two videos posted on the player's Twitter account show him hitting the ball comfortably, but there have been too many false dawns in the former world No 1's recovery

Tiger Woods posted videos on his Twitter account hitting some golf balls as he continues his rehabilitation from injury. Jim Watson / AFP
Tiger Woods posted videos on his Twitter account hitting some golf balls as he continues his rehabilitation from injury. Jim Watson / AFP

Hardly prolific on social media, Tiger Woods posted two videos to Twitter in the space of four days.

The first, on Saturday, captured the 14-time major champion in slow motion, committing to a full swing and striking, in his words, “smooth iron shots”.

It represented a graduation from a previous entry on August 31. Back then, Woods uploaded a video as he practiced chipping balls, telling his six million-plus followers that, four months after a fourth back surgery, his doctor had finally given him “the ok to start pitching”. In between, Woods had been predictably unforthcoming on his progress.

Then he followed Saturday’s video with another on Tuesday. He was hitting balls during an exhibition at the Tiger Woods Invitational.

Putting on a clinic alongside PGA Tour professional Kevin Chappell in California, Woods released an 11-second clip on Twitter. A member of the audience posted a video, too. There was a full swing, and even a club twirl.

So what to make of the latest social-media offerings? How far along the road to recovery was he? After all, it was little more than a week ago that Woods conceded at the President’s Cup, while serving as assistant captain on the United States team, that he could “definitely” see a scenario in which he doesn’t return to pro golf.

He last competed at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in February. After opening with a five-over par 77, he withdrew from the tournament. A third event after spending more than a year on the sidelines, caused by two back surgeries in 2015, had lasted one full round.

It demanded that Woods have lumbar fusion surgery in April, an invasive procedure for which the rehabilitation is best described as grating. Consequently, Woods has been restricted to seven competitive rounds in the past two years. Asked at the President's Cup about a potential return date, he offered only that he was “in no hurry”.

Yet everyone is in a rush to find out when Woods will be back. That, whether a former world No 1, ravaged by injury and dealing with personal issues as well, can eventually compete again. And compete well. In December, Woods turns 42.

The narrative around the American has long since shifted. Surpassing Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 major championships is, to all intents and purposes, gone. Winning four more times on the PGA Tour, to reach 83 victories and usurp Sam Snead at the top of the all-time list, looks fanciful. For the moment at least, even another tour title seems a long shot.

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Woods has to focus solely on healing properly. On recovering to such an extent that he can put his body through the rigours of professional golf. He needs to be able to commit to the reps, to practice at tour level. Crucially, he needs a swing that allows him to do that.

And should Woods return, then to what standard? The game is moving on; it has moved on. He is no longer scary long. He cannot any more go toe-to-toe off the tee with a Dustin Johnson, a Justin Thomas or a Rory McIlroy. The speed and the dynamism, that trademark Tiger and a large part of his appeal, is most probably a thing of the past.

It is hard to imagine, either, that playing merely decent golf would be of any interest to the man himself, that it would be enough for arguably the greatest competitor in the history of the game.

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For now, though, that is a considerable way off. Woods might have provided a few snapshots of his recovery this past week, but it is difficult to truly gauge where he is at. This week, agent Mark Sternberg told ESPN that his client was “just making progressions each day until he gets the clearance" from his medical team to resume fully his golf.

Whenever that may be, Woods must feel pleased enough with his recuperation to have taken to Twitter. Perhaps the performance of his peers at the President’s Cup lit a fire within him. Or maybe the little crumbs of information are simply to ensure he remains relevant.

As is usually the case with Woods, we're left to ponder and to postulate.