The soap opera that is Tiger Woods took a convoluted turn Wednesday night when the former world No. 1 announced he would not return to the PGA Tour until his game was "tournament-ready."
While Woods’ statement raised more questions than it answered -- Was his open-ended hiatus injury- or performance-related? A leave of absence or was he just on a break? Will he return in two weeks for the Honda Classic, and if so, why all the drama? What if he never regains his form? -- Tiger confidant Notah Begay III said the fading superstar was mortified by his current play.
"I mean, it was embarrassing," Begay, referring to Woods’ terrible start to his 2015 campaign, said on Golf Channel after his friend’s perplexing, yet not wholly unexpected, announcement.
"Predictable," is how Begay’s GC colleague, Brandel Chamblee, termed Woods’ decision to back away from the game.
Still, though rumors about Woods’ game and future have been flying since he withdrew midway through his first round of last week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the statement on his website sent shockwaves through the golf world. More stunning than his announcement -- of what, exactly, we’re not sure -- has been the dramatic decline in the state of his game.
Woods, who carded two withdrawals and three missed cuts in just seven official tour starts in 2014, has been injury-plagued for years. He underwent a microdiscectomy to relieve a pinched nerve in his back last March shortly after withdrawing from the Honda Classic.
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After skipping the Masters and U.S. Open, he returned to competition in June, only to miss the cut at the Quicken Loans National and be a non-factor in the British Open. He retired early again from the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in July, missed the cut at the PGA Championship in August, did not make the FedEx Cup playoffs, and took himself out of contention for a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
Despite a long layoff in the offseason, Woods’ play has not improved and his abysmal short game, in particular, has been scrutinized by just about everyone with access to the Internet. Prior to the Farmers, he missed the cut a week earlier at the Phoenix Open.
Indeed, the same guy who won five tour events as recently as 2013 and seemed a lock to grab four more titles and surpass Sam Snead’s all-time mark of 82, has instead been doing a pretty good impression of a country club hack. With a short game that would shame a 20-handicapper, not only are Tiger’s chances of overtaking Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors out of reach, many Woods watchers wonder if he’ll ever win another tournament.
Certainly not with his current scores, which Begay, who earlier this week poked fun at his pal's glute-filled presser after the Farmers, said were "reflective of not just the kind of golf that Tiger Woods expects out of himself ... but [of] any PGA Tour player."
Tiger Woods: "My play, and scores, are not acceptable for tournament golf."— Kelly Tilghman (@KellyTilghmanGC) February 11, 2015
After practicing and working out with his buddy at Woods’ Florida home the past couple days, Begay reported that Tiger’s back "looked great," his issues did not involve "physical limitations," his pressure-free chipping was okay, and he was "mentally strong" though emotionally challenged.
"I don’t think there’s an athlete that wouldn’t have been embarrassed to go out and do what he did in front of the world," said Begay, who lauded Woods’ decision to tough it out at Torrey Pines after scuffling to a career-worst 82 at Phoenix.
"To his credit, he strapped up and went out there again at Farmers knowing full well that this might happen again," Begay said. "And it did, and I think it’s a very wise choice on his part [to take a break from the tour]."
Woods’ mid- to long-term plans remain as hazy as before he issued his statement. More immediately, he’ll return to Colorado to watch skier girlfriend Lindsey Vonn compete, after which, agent Mark Steinberg told GolfChannel.com, Tiger would ready himself for whatever and whenever his next tournament will be.
With Woods stating he planned to “spend time with the people that are important to me,” and rampant speculation in the tabloids and beyond that he might pop the question on Valentine’s Day, the next time Tiger tees it up in competition -- if he does -- it may be as a married man.
But that, like everything else in “As the Tiger Turns,” is complete conjecture.
Tiger Woods was on hand to watch his girlfriend Lindsey Vonn ski in the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships today. pic.twitter.com/ofJjXiJH03— Golf Central (@GolfCentral) February 12, 2015