- Bob Harig, Senior Golf Writer
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BETHESDA, Md. -- The year began with such promise and anticipation, a player-of-the-year season just completed, some favorable major championship venues in his immediate future.
Going into 2014, Tiger Woods talked excitedly about the opportunity to contest the majors at places where he has excelled, including Pinehurst, Royal Liverpool and Valhalla.
Now it's fair to wonder if he'll miss them all, another blow in his quest to add to his 14 majors, especially when you consider he has won at the Open Championship and PGA Championship venues, and was second and third at this year's U.S. Open course.
Woods is in no shape to play golf right now, just 24 days before the start of the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. He made that clear Monday at a news conference to promote the Quicken Loans National at Congressional Country Club.
That tournament would appear to be in doubt, too, seeing as it starts June 26. And when you consider where he is now and how far he has to go, you have to wonder about the Open Championship, which begins July 17.
"I'd love to play. But I just don't know," Woods said. "And as I said, that's one of the more frustrating things. There's no date, there's no timetable, just taking it day by day and just focusing on trying to get stronger and come back.
"As I said, I want to play today, but that's just not going to happen. So just taking it step by step."
Woods wouldn't rule out even the U.S. Open -- it probably wouldn't be good form to make such news on a day he's trying to promote the tournament that benefits his foundation -- but that seems pretty obvious at this point.
There's more time prior to the Open Championship, but even if everything went perfectly for him between now and then, does he risk hitting shots off of the hard links ground and out of pot bunkers that can yield the most unusual of stances? And if he's not ready by then, the focus will be on the PGA Championship at Valhalla, which is just three weeks later.
Woods talked positively about the future but realistically about the present. He's not going to start hitting full shots until his doctors say he can. And when they do, how much time will it take for him to be ready to tee it up competitively?
When asked that question, even Woods wondered.
"How far am I away from being explosive?" he said. "Do I still have the capability of hitting the ball like that? But once I start feeling like that, I don't think it would take more than a couple of weeks to where I can get out there and feel like I can compete."
Of course, that's the competitive Woods talking, the guy who won the 2008 U.S. Open on a broken leg. Woods will show up, whenever it is, believing he can win, one of the attributes that contributes to his greatness.
But there is no way of knowing just how soon any of that explosiveness will return after he is cleared to go. Other golfers who have had similar surgery, including Graham DeLaet and Jason Bohn, have said there was a mental hurdle to overcome, getting comfortable with swinging without fear. Woods has never been one to swing passively at the ball. He'll need some time to develop the confidence to hit it hard, without repercussions.
And then there is another factor.
"How rusty am I going to be?" he said. "The more time you give me, I think the better I'll be. The great thing about what I've done so far with all my other previous surgeries is that I worked on my short game. Once I start expanding from there and start competing and playing, if I start spraying it all over the lot and not hitting it that great, at least my short game is solid. That's one of the positives to it."
Woods was not feeling so optimistic prior to the surgery. His back issues were apparent late last year and he did his best to manage it, hoping that the proper workout program, coupled with the necessary rest and rehabilitation, would carry him through this season.
But that began to go awry at the Honda Classic in March, where he had to withdraw during the final round. A week later at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, Woods played, but was clearly in distress following a final-round 78.
Soon he would be pulling out of the Arnold Palmer Invitational and having surgery, causing him to miss the Masters for the first time.
"Prior to the surgery, I didn't think I would have much of a playing career if I felt like this because, as I said, I couldn't get out of bed," he said. "Now that I've had the procedure, I'm excited about what the prospects hold, that I'm able to feel this way, and if that's the case then I'm excited about my career. I'm able to do what I want to do for as long as I want to."
That sounds great for the long term.
But for now, it is more than reasonable to wonder if he'll get a crack at any of those major championship venues he so relished playing.