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It's not yet time to write off Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods left little room for optimism when he spoke in the Bahamas a week ago about a his near-crippling back pain and a prognosis that offers no indication if and when he will return to golf.

Hence, the initial takes were understandably dire, Woods questioning his own ability to return to a level of golf once taken for granted, his blunt assessment so far from the ever-optimistic view for which he has always been known, even at the worst of times.

However, Woods never said he was retiring, never said there would be no comeback, and as the days progressed at the Hero World Challenge -- where Woods was as visible as he's ever been in any non-playing capacity -- he transmitted a "don't count me out, yet" vibe in various impromptu conversations and interviews.

Following his news conference at the event that benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation in which he said "there is no light at the end of the tunnel" as far as rehab and getting back to golf and anything accomplished from this point "is gravy," Woods did subsequent interviews in which he painted a realistic picture but scoffed at the idea that retirement is near.

"I was being honest," Woods told Global Golf Post's Ron Green Jr. "As of now, I don't know. I need to get my body healthy enough so I'm able to get back at it. All my surgeons and physios [say] I will be able to get back out but there's no timetable when that is."

Even in the Time Magazine interview that he did a few weeks ago and was published last week, Woods made it clear that he "absolutely" could see himself at the top again, but that he needs to get well and "I don't think I'll ever be 100 percent healthy."

The 14-time major champion couldn't hit a shot at the tournament he has won five times but was a frequent presence nonetheless at Albany Golf Club. He was at the pro-am party on Wednesday and another gathering hosted Thursday night by the Hero Corp., which sponsors the tournament, as well as a spectator on the golf course.

One day he drove his kids, Samantha and Charlie, around on a golf cart, pausing to watch play on the course while also signing autographs and posing for photos. He chatted with players, caddies, media -- and did so throughout the week.

And there were his stints in the broadcast booth, for both Golf Channel and NBC, where he offered interesting analysis of several players in the field while also addressing his own situation.

"I understand this is very different," he said during the telecast on Sunday. "Does that mean I'm not going to rehab, I'm not going to train, and not going to fight to get back? Of course I am. I'm far from being done, but I have to be patient, which I am not very good at when it comes to that side of it."

Hindsight suggests that Woods returned too soon from March 31, 2014, back surgery. And that another break starting in August of last year wasn't long enough, either. And that he rushed to get his game ready for the major championships in 2015, only to suffer the indignity of missing the cut in the last three major championships.

Woods' swing and game were far from a refined product when he played his last round at the Wyndham Championship in August, and all of this time away is not allowing him to refine those aspects of a player who was having difficulty putting all the parts together.

If he is serious about being patient, that might be the best sign if there is going to be a future inside the ropes. At this point, what's the rush?

It might also be suggested that in addition to taking his time, Woods could find other avenues to satisfy his workout cravings. Perhaps the pool or the elliptical machine as opposed to running; stretching and core work as opposed to heavy weights; maybe even reinventing himself, worrying less about power. "Golf offers so many ways to get it done," he admitted. "I can be more efficient."

Meanwhile, Woods seemed to enjoy being at the tournament, watching and socializing. True, the event had a limited number of spectators, so he was never in danger of being swarmed, as would be the case at a regular tour stop. But you get the sense he missed being around his peers, the good-natured trash talk part of it.

For all the examples of Woods' insular nature as he racked up the victories, he has undoubtedly taken a liking to many of today's star players. He shows genuine respect for Jordan Spieth, gets along quite well with Rickie Fowler -- Woods and Fowler are both members at the Medalist Golf Club in South Florida -- and has found an eager listener in Jason Day, who has peppered him with questions.

It wasn't all that long ago when during a casual conversation Woods remarked he was amazed at the lack of questions young players asked him, as he had done with the game's greats over the years, including Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Seve Ballesteros, Raymond Floyd and many more.

A light seemed to go off when it was suggested to Woods that perhaps they were afraid to ask.

Whatever the case, he enjoyed the banter, and maybe being around that again gave him a new sense of purpose, even if he still can barely bend over to tie his shoes.

That is not to suggest this will be easy, or that he will find any level of success when he does return. But that is the key -- he plans to return.

As the tournament was concluding on Sunday, Woods was in the player dining area with his daughter, Sam, engaging with sponsors and volunteers as well as saying thanks and goodbyes to the players. He couldn't resist the urge to make a Rose Bowl bet (Stanford vs. Iowa) with Zach Johnson -- who beat him in a playoff at this very tournament two years ago, the last time Woods had a shot at victory.

"I'll see you next year," Woods said to a reporter after chatting for a few minutes. "I don't know when exactly, but I'll see you next year."

At a golf tournament? That clearly remains a mystery.