Tiger Woods hopes to return to competitive golf next month but that does not mean he will be anything close to 100 percent healthy and ready to perform at his best, based on the experiences of two of his peers.
Canadian Graham DeLaet and Australian Stuart Appleby have both undergone similar microdiscectomy back surgeries to Woods, who is targeting the PGA Tour's Oct. 13-16 Safeway Open in Napa, California, for a return after spending over a year on the sidelines.
According to DeLaet, it took him more than two years before he felt his body allowed him to play the same way he did prior to his early 2011 surgery -- and he had the procedure at age 28, more than a decade younger than Woods, who turns 41 in December.
Nine-times PGA Tour winner Appleby said he was nowhere close to swinging at 100 percent over a year after his 2015 surgery, nerve impingement having sapped some of the strength from his left leg and requiring him to retrain his motor patterns.
"Once you're dealing with nerve issues, it's a very slow process," Appleby, 45, told Reuters. "Your body goes into a fright mode. It tenses up and compensation patterns take over. You really have to unwind them, rewire your body in a way.
"I had such an imbalance it took me about 12 months to unwind it to where I could swing properly. I can go as hard as I want (with my swing), but my clubhead speed's down from five years ago.
"Because the left leg's not as strong now, I can't drive up out of it on the left side. I don't know how successful my surgery was. I'd say I'm 75 percent. I reckon I was 50 percent when I started this season."
In Appleby's 23 PGA Tour events since his surgery in March 2015, he has failed to finish in the top 10 and missed the cut 10 times.
Woods has offered few details on the specifics of his recovery, other than to say he is now comfortable making plans for his return to competition.
He has undergone two microdiscectomy surgeries, the first one in 2014 followed by a second last September. He has not competed since late August 2015.
Microdiscectomy involves a surgeon removing fragments of the damaged disc from the back, among other things, to hopefully alleviate nerve pain.
DeLaet, meanwhile, says the most difficult aspect of returning to competition was regaining the confidence his back was healthy enough for him to go after the ball with a forceful swing out of the rough.
"It probably took me two good years before I felt I could play the way I could before the surgery," DeLaet, 34, who had his best seasons on tour in 2013 and 2014, told Reuters.
"That's what took me (time), that speed when you're in the rough and you really have to go after it, trusting it in the back of your head to know you can do it without (negative) consequences."
DeLaet observed that every person's body was unique but he felt that a common thread for anyone recovering from surgery was a difficult road back.
"It's not easy to come back from injury," he said. "It gets harder and harder obviously the older you get.
"I still feel (my back) every day, five-and-a-half-years since my surgery."
The experiences of Dataset and Appleby are no proof that Woods will have a similarly difficult road ahead of him. Nevertheless, their experiences serve as a sober reminder of the challenges the 14-times major champion might face.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)