Shooting 64 brightens outlook of Gary Woodland, who wonders if he came back too early after brain surgery

shooting 64 brightens outlook of gary woodland, who wonders if he came back too early after brain surgery

Gary Woodland hits a tee shot on the sixth hole during the second round of the Charles Schwab Challenge.

Gary Woodland’s comeback to the PGA Tour this season after brain surgery last September has ranked high among golf’s most heartening stories of 2024. But after the hoopla about the ccomeback and the early interviews in which Woodland expressed gratitude for his health and ability to compete, the 40-year-old still has a job to do when the tournaments start. We forget that sometimes, and from the sound of it, Woodland has struggled both physically and mentally in his return.

On Friday in the Charles Schwab Challenge, Woodland enjoyed what was easily his best round of the season, a six-under-par 64 that moved him into weekend contention at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth. Afterward, he spoke of how difficult it’s been at times to focus on the positives.

“It's been a process for me, just coming back,” Woodland said. “I probably came back too early. Then I still just don't feel how I want to feel. Charlotte [for the Wells Fargo Championship two weeks ago] was the first week I went back to where I had a tournament where I had symptoms the year before, and it was eye-opening for me just to be, like, ‘I don't feel great, but I don't feel like I did a year ago.’ Like, how bad I really was. I think I've forgotten about some of that because I was just so thankful to be back.”

It was one year ago, after Woodland experienced overwhelming anxiety and nausea in the PGA Championship at Oak Hill, that he sought the help of his doctor. Earlier in the season, he’d begun experiencing irrational fears about bad things happening to himself and his family. He suffered tremors in his hands, chills and a loss of appetite. “The big one [symptom] was I just wasn't feeling like myself,” Woodland recalled for reporters in January.

The results of an MRI in August revealed why: Woodland had a lesion on his brain. He underwent what was deemed successful surgery in September and returned to action at January’s Sony Open in Hawaii. The progress has come slowly. In 13 events before this week, the 2019 U.S. Open champion made seven cuts, with a best finish of T-21 at the Texas Children’s Houston Open. He shot 76-81 to miss the cut in the Masters, but has bounced back by making three cuts in four starts, including the Wells Fargo (T-38) and PGA Championship (T-60).

“I'm still battling, still on medication, still battling all the stuff, but probably a little more positive, I would say, the last three weeks than I was earlier this year,” Woodland said. “I think I was getting down on myself just because I didn't feel well. There's a lot to be positive about because I'm in a different position than I was a year ago.”

On Friday, Woodland opened the second round, on the 10th hole, with three straight birdies, and he sandwiched two bogeys around an eagle on the par-5 first. He then made three more birdies to come home with a 31. The 64 got Woodland to four under and into the top 15 through 36 holes.

“It was nice. It was nice to have all aspects,” Woodland said. “I drove it well, iron play, controlled the ball really well, and short game was nice and made some putts. It's been a long time since I put it all together. I've had some rounds this year where I putted it well or drove it well, but not together. That was a big change for me. Will definitely make lunch and dinner taste better today.”

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