Tiger Woods is healthy enough to practice chipping and putting, and he expects to return to the PGA Tour this summer, according to ESPN.com.
Woods has been sidelined since having surgery to repair a pinched nerve in his back on March 31 and missed the Masters for the first time in 20 years. However, Woods’ recovery is on schedule and he could be back before the end of the 2014 major season, according to his agent Mark Steinberg.
“He’s doing a little bit more and more each day,” Steinberg told ESPN.com. “He’s getting to the point of light chipping and putting and the doctors and trainers seem to be pleased with where he is. He is on schedule but we don’t know what that schedule means. I don’t know when he intends to be playing competitively.
“But I expect it to be this summer. I know that’s a wide range, but as the weeks go by we’ll be able to pinpoint an approximate time. It’s still a little early for that. Nothing that has gone on from the day of the surgery until today gives me any pause to amend what I said then. I know that’s broad and vague but we can’t pinpoint a specific time until we’re further along.”
The next major championship is the U.S. Open, which begins June 12 at Pinehurst in North Carolina. The British Open starts July 17 at Royal Liverpool, and the PGA Championship kicks off at Kentucky’s Valhalla on Aug. 7. Prior to his back injury, the 2014 major season was seen as favorable for Woods, who has won majors at Royal Liverpool and Valhalla and finished runner-up at the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst.
Another key summer event for Woods is the Quicken Loans National at Congressional on June 26, which raises money for the Tiger Woods Foundation.
Woods’ close friend Notah Begay said last week that Woods would not be able to compete in the U.S. Open, and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said he did not expect Woods to return until July.
Steinberg’s comments are welcome news to a golf industry that saw TV ratings drop significantly for the Tiger-less 2014 Masters and would face staggering losses in the event of a long-term Woods’ absence. (Woods hasn’t played in a PGA Tour event since shooting a final-round 78 at Doral on March 9.) This surgery — and his careful recovery — is aimed at extending his career, Steinberg said.
“I’ve seen a very responsible approach to getting back,” Steinberg said. “This is about the next 10 or 15 years, this is not about the next 10 weeks. This is not about targeting any specific tournament. If he needs to wait one or two or three extra weeks he will. He’s thinking about this very, very long term.”