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Schedule, health and the PGA Tour’s future: Everything Tiger Woods had to say ahead of the 2023 Hero World Challenge

Tiger Woods is back in the spotlight this week.

In his latest comeback, the 15-time major champion returns to competition this week at the 2023 Hero World Challenge at Albany in the Bahamas for his first appearance on the course since he withdrew from the 2023 Masters after he made the cut earlier this spring.

The Hero World Challenge – a tournament hosted by Woods that benefits his TGR Foundation – is a non-official PGA Tour event that features a field of 20 of the best players in the world including Scottie Scheffler, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Max Homa, and Viktor Hovland.

Woods didn’t participate in the Hero last season due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot. A five-time Hero winner, he last claimed victory in 2011 and has finished runner-up on five occasions as well.

Here’s everything Tiger had to say at his annual Hero World Challenge press conference alongside Hero Motorcorp Executive Chairman, Dr. Pawan Munjal.

Q: What does the increased prize purse mean for the tournament?

TIGER WOODS: The increase in prize purse just elevates this event, attracts the top players in the world with the event here at Albany and what we’ve done here throughout the years. And the feedback we’ve gotten, we’ve tried to make this event special. At the end of the year these guys have been playing a lot and we want to make this the most enjoyable week and get them down here and have a great time. I think with Hero’s involvement in this event it has elevated the event. We’re excited to continue that relationship through 2025.

Q:As far as the competition, obviously making your first start since last year's, how does the game feel coming into this week?

TW: My game feels rusty, I haven’t played in a while. I had my subtalar fused. I’m excited to compete and play and I’m just as curious as all of you are to see what happens because I haven’t done it in a while. I can tell you this, I don’t have any of the pain that I had at Augusta or pre that in my ankle. Well, other parts are taking the brunt of the load so I’m a little more sore in other areas, but the ankle’s good.  So that surgery was a success.

Q:Tiger, when did you decide that you were going to be able to play? What's the build-up been like? And you mentioned not having the pain that you had at Augusta. Will it be the same pre-round routine and post-round routines that you were going through?

TW: As far as the commitment to playing, probably after I caddied with Charlie and was able to recover each and every day like that. I was still lifting and still doing a bunch of other things too alongside of that, so in conjunction with that and during part of it, all my beach walks at home, just the accumulation, how could I recover, could I keep progressing at the same time, right? I was hitting golf balls a lot, trying to get Charlie ready for the event. And then post event I started feeling, you know what, I can probably do, so why not?  Talked to the committee, and a committee of one was able to give me a spot.

Q: How concerned are you walking 90 holes?

TW: Steve, I’m not concerned at all about walking it. It’s more, as I said, I don’t have any of the ankle pain that I had with the hardware that’s been placed in my foot, that’s all gone. The other parts of my body, my knee hurts, my back. The forces go somewhere else. Just like when I had my back fused, the forces have to go somewhere. So it’s up the chain. As I said, I’m just as curious as all of you with what’s going to happen. I haven’t done this in a while.

Q: Tiger, I'm sorry to kind of go back, but we haven't really spoken with you. What was your reaction to the June 6th framework announcement?

TW: Well, going back to that, I would say that my reaction was surprised as I’m sure a lot of the players were taken back by it, by what happened. So quickly without any input or any information about it, it was just thrown out there. I was very surprised that the process was what it was. We were very frustrated with what happened and we took steps going forward to ensure that the player involvement was not going — we were not going to be left out of the process like we were. So part of that process was putting me on the board and accepting that position.

Q: As part of the board, are you pleased now with the direction of the Tour since you’re part of the decision-making process?

TW: I’m pleased at the process and how it’s evolved. Also frustrated in some of the slowness and the governance change that we want to have happen. And December 31st is coming up very quickly, so there’s the timetable there that we would like to implement some of these changes that have not taken place. The guys, all the player directors have spent so many hours and worked tireless hours to make sure that we have the best deal for all the players that are involved, the entire PGA Tour.

Q: Tiger, just if I could just go back to your own health real quick. Obviously that surgery, quality of life issues are probably much better now. Just curious, will that surgery help your golf not long run or does it present more challenges even given what you had done?

TW: I would say that the procedures I’ve had done post last couple years, I’ve had a number of them and at some point in time I was going to have to get my ankle replaced or fused. That timetable was sped up. They weren’t expecting me to put as many forces into that ankle as when I hit drivers, and so I think the doctors were surprised by that. And the ankle just went, it was bone on bone and that’s why you saw me limping and not feeling very good. The only way to fix that was either to get it replaced or fused, and we chose the fusion, the subtalar fusion and put hardware in there. The next part’s the hard part, it’s six months of doing nothing. That’s the hard part. The first couple months were really rough, but unfortunately I’ve had experience, I’ve gone through it before and I’m here on the good side now.

Tiger, you mentioned that the deadline is coming up. From your perspective, how optimistic do you feel like this agreement can come together before the deadline?

TW: One thing, all the parties are talking and we’re aggressively working on trying to get a deal done.  We’re all trying to make sure that the process is better, too, as well. So the implementation of governance is one of the main topics as long as — getting the deal done, but making sure it’s done the right way.

Q: Does the deal have to happen, or an alternative, a plan B, a different deal make sense?

TW: We have multiple options, but still, we would like to have a deal done December 31st. That’s what the agreement said in the summer and all parties understand that.  But there are other options out there.

Q: You touched on governance changes. Can you tell us what you think has to change? 

TW: As long as a player had input and we’re able to make faster decisions and the board recognizes that, I think that is one of the — one of the key things that the players, all the player directors have really, have focused on. I think the entire board has been very accepting of that and we would just like to make the process faster.

Q: The Hero World Challenge is your own tournament, benefits your foundation, what is it about this tournament that you choose this as your come-back platform so often?

TW: Well, I think the timing of the event with the injuries that I’ve had and I think just the way the event has been with the smaller field size, the fact that it’s at the end of the year which sets me up for expectations going into the following year, it’s a nice landing spot. Also a good springboard into the following year and my foundation benefits from it. So there’s so many positives that come about because of my ability to be able to play in the event. So I’ve found this as a nice little spot to kind if turn the page and then move on to the next chapter or into the next year.

Q: Tiger, do you have a sense of what the professional golf landscape will look like in a year or two years or does it feel as murky to you on the inside of the process as it does to us on the outside?

TW: To answer that question, I would say that the answer is murky. I would have to say there’s quite a bit of — there’s a lot of moving parts on how we’re going to play. Whether it’s here on the PGA Tour or it’s merging, or team golf. There’s a lot of different aspects that are being thrown out there all at once and we are trying to figure all that out and what is the best solution for all parties and best solution for all the players that are involved.

Q: Tiger, with Joe LaCava caddying full time for Patrick Cantlay, who do you plan to have caddying this week and moving forwards for you?

TW: I’ve got (Rob McNamara) this week, he’s seen me hit a few shots. As far as next year, I don’t know yet. I don’t think Charlie’s going to be able to caddie. Can’t play hooky that often.    I don’t know. Honestly, I really don’t know. I was just looking forward to this week and seeing how things turned out. I’m curious to see what 72 holes looks like on the body and my game and then try and set a schedule going forward into next year.

Q: On the TGL, obviously it gets pushed back a year. You're obviously a part of that. Just your thoughts on how that affects the league and just moving forward, your view on the TGL?

TW: I think it was moving very quickly and I think we can take advantage of time delay. I think that we can do it right and I think all the parties that are involved really feel that this is going to be the best thing for it. There’s so many partners, so many people that are involved in this league that have had so much brand experience and they want to get it right, and they have gotten it right, they’re billionaires. I think that if we’re able to capture that I think going into ’25, I think that it will be positive for all of us.

Q: Whether it be sharing knowledge with younger players about Augusta or TGL or now the Tour board, how much have you kind of mentally taken on that role of being a senior presence in the game of golf, right?

TW: Don’t say senior, I’m not there yet. I’ve got a couple more years (laughs). Honestly, that part of the transition is I think a natural progression that golfers have. When you come out in your 20s, you’re young and you’re impressionable and you ask questions. Then as you get older you have your little run and towards the end you want to pass on all that knowledge to others. That’s how the game of golf has grown. That’s what we have all learned from. I didn’t discover any of this stuff. This is all stuff I’ve asked players throughout the years and I’ve gotten so much of my direction from asking questions. Of.  I’ve had some of the best players of all time, unfortunately a lot of them aren’t here, but just to be able to pick their brains, I think that’s what the game of golf’s all about.

Q: Do you enjoy the part of being on the board and in those kind of meetings?

TW: Well, I enjoy the fact that I’m able to make an impact differently than just hitting a golf ball. I made an impact on the PGA Tour for a number of years hitting a golf ball and doing that. I can have, I think, a lasting impact by doing — by doing what I’m doing, by being on the board and being a part of the future of the PGA Tour.

Q: In a best case scenario, what would a schedule for you look like next year?

TW: I think that best scenario would be maybe a tournament a month. I think that’s realistic whether that’s — you would have to start with maybe at Genesis and something in March near the Players. Again, we have set up right now the biggest events are one per month. It sets itself up for that. Now, I need to get myself ready for all that. I think this week is a big step in that direction.

Q: Tiger, Jay Monahan's taken a lot of heat since June 6th. What's your assessment of the job he's done since then? Secondly, you mentioned the team golf aspect of it. What is your opinion on team golf's place in the future ecosystem?

TW: I think Jay has been a part of the direction, he understands what happened prior to that can’t happen again and won’t happen again, not with the players that are involved and not with the player directors having the role that we have.  Now, as far as team golf, I think there is away in which we can all benefit from team golf, it’s just how do we do it. We’re just trying to figure out that process now. We have been, we’ve been doing it for months, trying to figure out how that all works, what does that landscape even look like and where do we play and what impact does it have on our PGA Tour schedule. I think that’s something that we have focused on and we don’t take lightly.

Q: Tiger, as far as the landscape goes, is there a path back to the PGA Tour for the players who joined LIV, and if so, what would that look like?

TW: As far as a pathway, we’re still working on that. That’s part of the deal we’re working through is trying to find a path, whatever that looks like. There’s so many different scenarios. That’s why I said there’s a lot of sleepless hours trying to figure that out, a lot of participation from the players and what does that look like.

Q: Tiger, what are the emotions that drove you to be on the policy board?

TW: I think the overall emotion is I think what I answered with Rex earlier, is we can’t let that happen again. How do we do that, is having six player directors so we control the board and we control what we’re going to do. We’re not going to have what transpired in a few months without our involvement again.

Q: Were you surprised that Rory decided to move off the board? I’m sure you understand why.

TW: I totally understand why Rory made that decision. We put a lot of effort and time into the Delaware meeting and getting everyone aligned for that. Going from there and the next couple years, just the involvement or the conflict within golf and then his participation at the highest level. He was in contention almost every tournament he played in and he was the spokesman at the same time. So that was very difficult on him personally and I totally understand it.

Q: Tiger, the new company, I guess PGA Tour Enterprises, what's being discussed is significant sums of investment no matter where it's coming from, whether it's PIF, private equity, what have you. Do you have an opinion on what you would like to see that become?

TW: Everyone involved wants a return, that’s just part of doing deals, but we have to protect the integrity of our tour and what that stands — what that looks like and what that stands for going forward.  That is trying to figure all that out in the past few months has been a very difficult task.    8 But yes, there are a lot of different options, a lot of different — a lot of different parts that are moving, trying to get a deal done whether it’s from all different types of money, what that looks like. But we have to protect what the Tour is for the players.

Q: Obviously getting the ankle surgery was a quality of life thing for you, but what motivated the golf side to continue and push yourself to continue to play?

TW: I love competing, I love playing. I miss being out here with the guys, I miss the camaraderie and the fraternity-like atmosphere out here and the overall banter.  But what drives me is I love to compete. There will come a point in time, I haven’t come around to it fully yet, that I won’t be able to win again. When that day comes, I’ll walk — well, now I can walk. I won’t say run away, but I’m going to walk away.

Q: So you being here assumes you think you can still win?

TW: Absolutely.

Q: The Ryder Cup, your name has already been mentioned as a possible captain for 2025. What are your thoughts on that at the moment?

TW: Right now there’s too much at stake with our tour to think about a Ryder Cup right now. We have to get this done and we have to be focused on this right now. The Ryder Cup can take a — the players and everyone involved understands that this is an issue we need to focus on.

Q: There’s some noise about Patrick Cantlay and the hat issue in Rome. What were your thoughts as a youngster in terms of being (indiscernible) as a Ryder Cup and have your thoughts changed in that respect?

TW: Well, what transpired there, it was media, it was just noise. Then the — obviously the fact that everyone now carries a mobile device and that was able to spread. You’re on — you’re not on home soil, so any time someone — they’re going to try to get in your head and that’s what they tried to do.  I totally get it. Emotions. We all want to win. You have a home side and opposing side, you’re going to get heat and that’s what happened.

Q: Tiger, you mentioned protecting the integrity of the Tour and kind of what makes the Tour. I'm curious, like now we're in this spot where you've sort of stripped it all back, everything's potentially on the table. What is important about the PGA TOUR? Like what is the bedrock of what makes professional golf valuable?

TW: Well, I think — that’s a great question, Dylan. What we have to do is we have to make sure that we have access to the game. I had access to the game. I had an ability to get on Tour. We ensure that, and have — ensure that we protect our schedule, like I talked about earlier, and our Tour and take care of the players. Without the players, there is no Tour. How do we take care of them in a better way, not just financially. Obviously everyone wants to get paid, but how do we have the best competitive atmosphere and competitive events from week to week to week and what does that look like, and what does it look like for the players to have to be involved in that and what do they have to give up to have that and what are like Bob was mentioning earlier, what are investors looking for to invest in our Tour.

Q: Just curious, Bob mentioned the investment aspect. How important is it that PIF is involved, or does it really matter if PIF is involved or not in the ultimate I guess scheme of what's going on?

TW: I think we’re looking at all options and trying to figure out what is the best deal for the players. There’s a lot of moving parts to that as I was trying to describe earlier.

Q: Ultimately do you have faith in Jay Monahan and in what he can bring and what he can still do?

TW: That was part of why I came on to the board is I did have faith in Jay and in what he could do going forward and what can’t happen again.

Q: Tiger, are you confident a deal gets done with somebody or some entities by December 31st?

TW: I am confident a deal will get done in some way. Whether that comes December 31st or is pushed back, we’re all — all sides understand we’re working together. There are no lawsuits. Everyone’s understanding what that looks like and we’re all progressing going forward. Everyone’s working right now with no animosity. We’re trying to work to try and get a deal done for the tour and for all parties involved.

Q: You said frustration was a motivation for you to be on the policy board. Was the frustration about the leadership with Jay and Ed Herlihy and Jimmy Dunne, that they forged this agreement without input from the players, or were you just frustrated that the deal actually happened?

TW: Well, I was frustrated with the fact that the players were never involved. This is our tour and as — I was saying earlier to Rex, we were all taken back by it. It happened so quickly without any of our involvement. No one knew. That can’t happen again.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek