clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Will Tiger Woods retire or just limp away?

Tiger’s highly anticipated comeback has vanished into dust in a hurry.

Omega Dubai Desert Classic - Day One Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Tiger Woods will not receive a golf watch for his 20-plus years on the job.

He won’t be making a David Ortiz-like farewell tour of Torrey Pines, Bay Hill, or Augusta, when it’s his time to walk away from the game.

The way things are going, the man with 14 major titles among 79 PGA Tour wins may not even show up for a press conference called to announce his retirement. He’ll either be too physically unwell for a sit down with the media (as he apparently was for this week’s scheduled, rescheduled, and, finally, cancelled presser at Riviera) or too proud to call it quits, even though it appears it’s past time for him to make the determination that all professional athletes know is coming but most can’t believe they’ll ever have to make.

“It’s never an easy decision when you put a lot into something,” retired NFL star Peyton Manning told GolfChannel.com from last week’s Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. “One thing I always took a lot of pride in was having good timing as a quarterback, good timing with my receiver. It felt like it was the right time for me.

“It might have been the right time no matter how it ended up,” said the two-time Super Bowl champion who went out on the highest of notes by winning his sport’s biggest tournament, “but it certainly made it sweet, being able to go out winning your last game.”

Whether Woods makes a statement announcing his retirement, or continues shuffling and grimacing around golf courses in depressing, failed attempts to make cuts for the next however many weeks, months, years, it’s pretty clear to those watching him try to recapture the long-gone glory days of the playing career of the greatest golfer of his generation, if not all time, is over.

The accepted maxim is that tour golfers don’t retire; they show up at fewer and fewer events, struggling more and more, until it’s time to move to the Champions Tour. Longtime Woods watchers cannot imagine Tiger, whose mantra since “Hello world” has been “in it to win it,” willing to join the over-50 gang or become more of a rubbernecker attraction than he’s already become, almost to the point where fans and media show up to see how much of a car wreck his next outing will be.

It’s possible — even probable — that the former world No. 1 will tee it up again on tour, though where and when nobody knows since Tiger withdrew from back-to-back contests starting with the Genesis Open in Los Angeles this week and followed immediately by the Honda Classic on home turf in Florida.

Three back surgeries sidelined Woods for 15 months before he returned with much fanfare to his unofficial Hero World Challenge in December. Though he led the limited field with 24 birdies, he still finished 15th in a 17-player field.

Almost two months later, he made a now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t comeback to full-field play at Torrey Pines but did not survive to play the weekend after suffering his first-ever 36-hole missed cut on the track where he owns a record eight victories. It never seemed a terrific idea to slate four events in five weeks, especially with all the travel involved, and that long flight to the Middle East with a balky back apparently took its toll. Tiger, seemingly in pain and swinging and walking “like an old man,” quit after an opening-round 77.

Though the official word from Team Tiger was that back spasms unrelated to the three microdiscectomies he underwent between March 2014 and October 2015 were to blame for his latest withdrawal, he conceded during a pre-tourney promotional interview that he doubted he would “ever feel great” again after the multiple procedures.

Woods’ history as the most dominant, thrilling, and polarizing golfer since he lapped the field with a 12-shot win in the 1997 Masters is well-chronicled, and there will be plenty of time for postmortems on the most storied career in the history of the game.

For now, it is enough to recognize that the 41-year-old guy with an octogenarian’s body is a shadow of his former self. Certainly he has defied the odds and returned to competition time and again from a litany of injuries that would have derailed the careers of lesser men.

At this point, though, the player who held golf’s top ranking for a record 683 weeks but is now ranked 693rd and not healthy enough to sit in a chair for 15 minutes and answer questions from reporters at a tourney benefiting his foundation, has to be considering that the end is near. Whether he acknowledges the reality remains up in the air.

“With the way my body feels, with the way that I’m able to feel like I’m able to compete now, I don’t know that it’s good enough,” ex-tennis great Andy Roddick said after injuries forced him out of the ranks of the elite and into retirement. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone who’s interested in ‘existing’ on tour.”

For sure, just being one of the guys scuffling along at the cut line has never been at the top of the bucket list of someone whose intensity to compete and win has been a driving force since he first exploded onto the golf scene.

But he’s not even one of the guys anymore, what with the youth brigade inspired by his take-no-prisoners play as they were growing up. He simply can’t compete with the best who are now outdriving and outplaying him at every opportunity.

Though speaking of himself, one of those young guns may have been sending his mentor a less-than-subtle message when he spoke of his own back woes during a pre-Genesis press conference.

"The moment I don't want to improve and I don't want to play to win tournaments is the moment that I'll walk away and I'll be happy with it because I just can't keep fighting myself about it,” top-ranked Jason Day said on Tuesday from Riviera. “So hopefully I can stay healthy and get to 40.”

Tiger Woods passed that milestone nearly two months ago.