For Tiger Woods, choice was to gamble or just write off 2014
JUN 21, 2014 8:00a ET
This was the decision Tiger Woods had to make.
It's not in any way ideal, and he'll be as unprepared heading into a tournament as he's ever been in his career, but his hand has been forced.
If Woods didn't make this call, 2014 would have become a lost season and, at his age, he can't afford any more of those.
Woods stunned the golf world on Friday by announcing he'd make his return from back surgery next week at the Quicken Loans National, the tournament that benefits his foundation.
It was unexpected because he's only just resumed hitting full golf shots after (relatively minor) back surgery in March.
Indeed, the last the world heard from the deposed No. 1, a month ago, it didn't sound like a comeback was around the corner.
"As of right now, I can chip and putt, but that's it," he said.
"We are going to just take it slowly."
Not too slowly, obviously.
Woods' hand was forced on two fronts.
First, his tournament, at Congressional Country Club, has a new title sponsor.
Woods has disappointed sponsors before, but these days they're harder to come by and he wants to get off on the right foot given the importance to his foundation.
But beyond the corporate concerns, there's the bigger picture for him.
If he were to wait till he was truly ready to resume tournament golf, he'd head into the British Open at Hoylake -- where he won the last of his three claret jugs, in 2006 -- and hope to wing it.
That strategy didn't work out too well when he made his season debut at Torrey Pines in January.
An obviously undercooked Woods missed the Saturday cut in San Diego after barely breaking 80 in his third round on a course where he's won eight times.
He followed that befuddling performance with a mediocre showing in the Middle East before pulling out in the final round at the Honda Classic with back problems.
Woods showed up the next week at Doral for the Cadillac Championships but again was hampered by back problems in the final round. He opted to finish that tournament, but could do no better than a Sunday 78.
Woods soon after chose to go under the knife, having a disc shaved so it no longer irritated nerves in his lower back.
He's now going to play just two weeks after hitting full shots on the range.
"After a lot of therapy, I have recovered well and will be supporting my foundation next week," Woods said Friday on Facebook.
"I've just started to hit full shots, but it's time to take the next step. I will be a bit rusty, but I want to play myself back into competitive shape. Excited for the challenge ahead."
Woods has already missed the Masters, a title defense at The Players Championship and the U.S. Open.
This move is designed to make the most of the year's final two majors.
Woods won the last time both those venues hosted majors, at Royal Liverpool in 2006 and Valhalla, outside of Louisville, Kentucky, in 2000.
He will be -- as he wrote -- "a bit rusty" next week but will probably also play the week after, at the Greenbrier Classic in West Virginia.
He'll use these tournaments as a midseason spring training of sorts.
It isn't ideal, but for a man who hasn't won a major since 2008, it's a necessary gamble.
The other problem with waiting another few weeks is that Woods has a long way to go to get into the FedEX Cup playoffs that begin on Aug. 21.
He is 207th in the points race and needs high finishes just to crack the top 125 that make it into the first event, The Barclays.
Beyond that, Woods needs to show Tom Watson that he's worthy of a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup, to be played in late September in Scotland.
It's a gamble he had to take, but not one that comes without risk.
The real danger for Woods is that his back hasn't had time to properly heal.