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Tiger Woods holds his first press conference since his Feb. 23 car crash in Los Angeles at the Hero World Challenge golf tournament in Nassau, Bahamas, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Doug Ferguson)

So what’s the distance between the mountain top — in this case, Mount Everest, a place Tiger Woods said this week he does not expect to revisit — and the baseline of “hit and giggle” that the golfer said will be more within his altitude going forward after last winter’s horrific car crash?

We now have the makings of the PGA Tour’s first great story line entering the new year. The temptation, in light of his public statements this week, would be to pronounce that Woods has entered the valedictory stage of his professional life, with all of its highs and lows and a comeback that few thought possible.

Let Tiger (who turns 46 at the end of the month) enjoy the back nine of his career. Allow him to be driven not by the competitive fire that he has flashed for more than a quarter century but by a simple gratitude he can still play with all limbs intact.

It sounds reasonable, right? Until you remember that this is Tiger Woods we’re talking about, a guy as likely to surrender as the Black Knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (a film that is exactly as old as Tiger) in which the BK determined to protect the bridge despite having his arms and legs hacked off (“’Tis but a scratch”).

In the aftermath of the Feb. 23 accident that nearly cost him his right leg, Tiger may want to tamp down our expectations when he says that he lacks the wherewithal physically to compete on the tour, except for a “round here or there, a little hit and giggle."

"I think something that is realistic is playing the tour one day — never full-time ever again — but pick and choose, just like Mr. (Ben) Hogan did,” Woods said during a Zoom interview. “You practice around that, and you gear yourself up for that. I think that's how I'm going to have to play it from now on. It's an unfortunate reality, but it's my reality. And I understand it, and I accept it.”

But as Dylan Dethier noted on Golf.com this week, Tiger made similar pronouncements in 2015 at the same venue — the Hero World Challenge at Albany in the Bahamas — when few thought it possible he could recover from multiple back surgeries to compete at the highest level.

“The hardest part for me is there’s really nothing I can look forward to, nothing I can build toward,” Woods said at the time. “… I think everything beyond this will be gravy.”

It took a while, but after winning another green jacket at the 2019 Masters, Woods climbed to the No. 6 ranking in the world. That’s a pretty rich brand of gravy.

Yes, this feels different. The damage to his leg, by all accounts, was harrowing with an excruciating rehab. The time lost will never be retrieved, and the clock is still ticking. However, the video that surfaced this week of Woods hammering 3-woods in the Bahamas suggested that there may still be enough left in his bag to imagine his name once more on a leaderboard, even if he may never play on a week-in, week-out basis again.

It’s worth noting that Hogan, after sustaining major injuries when his car collided with a Greyhound bus in Texas in 1949, played sparingly thereafter (never more than nine tournaments in a year), but he won the Masters and U.S. Open in 1951, when he played just four times, and won five of the six tournaments in which he played in 1953, including three majors.

If that’s not Everest, it’s at least Kilimanjaro.

A still dangerous Tiger in winter? Woods’ peers on the tour sound as if they wouldn’t be the least surprised if there were memory-making shots still to be made.

“I just saw him yesterday and I told him he’s the most stubborn person that I know,” Xander Schauffele told Golf.com. “And that he’s trying to — you know, basically he’s using this situation as motivation to try and come back and win and be that guy because he’s always been that guy.”

Woods made it sound this week that he doesn’t have to be “that guy” to be content.

“I won’t have the opportunity to practice, given the condition of my leg, and build up,” he said. “I just don’t. I’ll just have a different way of doing it and that’s OK. I’m at peace with that. I’ve made the climb enough times.”

But already there is speculation when he will play in 2022. Go for a sixth green jacket at the Masters? Play historic St. Andrews, site of next year’s British Open? You can probably wager a pound or two on Tiger playing one or both.

“I would love to be able to play that Open Championship. There's no doubt about it,” he said. “Physically, I hope I can. I've got to get there first. Tournament's not going to go anywhere, but I need to get there.”

The surprise will be not that he gets there, but that he doesn’t. I’m just hoping for a spot in his gallery.

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