It’s rare for Tiger Woods to make a big comeback and have the subject of his current health and competitive future relegated to a sidebar story. But with the future of men’s professional golf hanging in the balance ahead of a fast-approaching (albeit self-imposed) deadline to finalize the “Framework Agreement” announced by the PGA Tour and the Saudi PIF back in June, Tiger’s ankle took a backseat at his Hero World Challenge press conference. Given Tiger’s recently undertaken role as a board member and the fact we haven’t heard from him in a setting like this since the Masters, much less since the Framework Agreement was revealed, Tiger’s takes on the pressing little matter of “the PGA Tour’s entire future” were always going to be studied and picked apart.

Tiger’s appearances at the Hero, basically his holiday party, have often served as a harbinger for the year ahead. Whether it’s a competitive showing, displaying impressive swing speed, a sudden case of chip yips, a comeback false start, or a dire “there’s no light at the end of the tunnel” quote, the Hero has always been more than anything else an illustrative late-year check-in on the most analyzed golfer of all time. Tuesday’s press conference saw those usual updates on his playing future, yes, but this year they dueled with plenty of talk about the future of competitive golf itself.

Tiger in these settings seems to prefer answering questions in a way that leaves plenty of reading material between the lines. He offered a lot of words on the current state of the PGA Tour, but Woods was vague on the status of investment negotiations pressing up against that December 31st deadline, calling the situation “murky.” He was clearly pissed at the lack of player consultation or input throughout the process that led to the June 6th “merger” announcement. He reiterated how unacceptable it was, and said it could never happen again. He called Rory McIlroy the “spokesman” for the Tour over the past couple years, a comment with a blast radius stretching all the way to anyone at the PGA Tour who collects a salary for a role with duties Rory has been covering. He expressed “frustration” with the pace of the ongoing negotiations and “governance change” the players want to have happen. And when directly asked to assess Jay Monahan’s performance since the June 6th merger announcement, he offered only a tepid “Jay has been a part of the direction.”

Watching all of these little moments and quotes on Tuesday, Tiger came across as uncertain about where the ongoing negotiations will end up, and he certainly came off as frustrated with the current state of tour leadership. Again, he was careful to not get pinned down on any of this. From everything that’s actually on the record he may be perfectly pleased and ready to give a ringing endorsement of Jay Monahan in the near future. But Tiger had the chance to do those things on Tuesday and he very much did not.

Take what Tiger left us with, stir in some Jordan Spieth word salad about “non-negotiables” perhaps obstructing a potential PIF deal, and add the recent resignation of Rory McIlroy from this board, and, well, one wonders where things are at and where they’re going. There’s just one month left before this deadline. Are we gridlocked? What’s the level of trust between the players and tour bureaucracy? And what’s the level of trust among the players themselves?

Glimpses at the Tour’s hidden power struggle was the main takeaway from Tiger’s presser. Now comes the fun part: watching him play again for the next four days. Like the investment negotiations, he described the state of his game as TBD thanks to a lack of reps. He described himself as being “just as curious as all of you are to see what happens” about how his body might hold up for another attempt at a competitive return. At this point, honestly, any reps and appearances in 2024 should be considered welcome “gravy”, the term Tiger first used to describe these circumstances back in 2015 at, you guessed it, the Hero.

This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.