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Tiger Woods admits his career might be over, but that doesn't mean it's likely

At the end of a Presidents Cup press conference, Woods says there's ‘definitely’ a scenario where he may never play again. Whether that answer is indicative of his golf future is a separate issue.

After a season out of view, Tiger Woods was back in front of the media at the Presidents Cup this week.

Tiger Woods said more than nothing. It did not change anything or shed light on something previously unknown, but it was news that Tiger, in a public forum, allowed that there's "definitely" a scenario in which he never plays competitive golf again. If asked, he'd probably also allow for a scenario in which he comes back and still breaks Jack Nicklaus' major championship record.

The moment came from the very last question of a joint assistant captains press conference for both the International and USA teams at the Presidents Cup. These pre-match days at team events are full of sponsor marketing, brand activations that pay the bills, and mostly over-serious fluff with minimal utility. That such a thing as an assistant captains press conference exists should confirm as much. But this one became notable because one of those assistants was Tiger, coming off a year from hell and away from media inquiry.

Tiger had not met the press in an official capacity at an event since the start of this year. And, well, a bit has happened in the intervening months since his last competitive round in Dubai in early February. So while Tiger was just supposed to be one-eighth of a press conference about this international match play event, it quickly turned into a Q&A with the assistant captain on the far right end of the dais.

Woods seems to relish these roles as a captain and sherpa in these team events. From all accounts, he ran the show as an assistant last year at the Ryder Cup, completely throwing himself into the event, which the US won for the first time since 2009. He's back serving as a master strategist and mentor this year in the Presidents Cup. Whatever you may think of Tiger, it is extremely cool to see him in this role, loving it and excelling at it. And while he may relish the position, it does put him back in a public forum and one of the obligations is media.

The pretense of some media session that was about "team activities" and the Presidents Cup competition was not maintained past the first minute of this press conference. Nine of a total 16 questions were directed at Tiger, and a 10th was put to the other U.S. captains asking about Tiger. Occasionally, someone would lob a question to the other side of the dais and the International quartet of Mike Weir, Geoff Ogilvy, Tony Johnstone, and Ernie Els.

Tiger did his usual Matrix routine, deflecting questions, refusing to get boxed in, cracking a few jokes that he exhorted the assembled media to laugh at, and saying a lot of words without saying much at all. He's hitting 60-yard shots, which we already knew. There's no timetable for his return — he'll just follow whatever his surgeon tells him, a line we've already heard. He's happy to be out back among "the guys." He threw out the term "golf muscles" and talked about getting his "health organized," as if it were his Gmail account that needed to be cleaned out and sorted.

After he filibustered a bit with Karen Crouse of The New York Times, she put a pointed and strong question to him when he stopped for a beat.

"Why do you need competitive golf still?"

It's the million dollar question, one that Tiger has to have ruminated over throughout these last four broken-down years. Tiger is brilliant, maybe the smartest golfer ever. It's a question that, in his own mind or off the record, he probably has a captivating explanation for one way or the other. In this setting, however, he evaded with, "I think it's fun."

It had been a while in this press conference arena, but Tiger was on his usual flow, even if he maybe felt uncomfortable about a team thing becoming a Tiger thing. Then we got to the end, and the notion of "100 percent health," which Woods said was an undefinable number after eight surgeries. So someone prefaced a question with "if you got your body 100 percent to what it was in your 20s," which left Woods, who is not in his 20s, rightly incredulous.

"Well, is anybody in here who is in their 40s ever going to feel like they did in their 20s?" he retorted. "Huh? Seriously?"

It seemed we were at the end of the line and Tiger had said what he said, the patience was maybe less than it was at the start, and there would be no more clarification. There was a reason why blogger Tiger fired out that wide-ranging post on his website last week. It was likely to set the parameters and answers for all the anticipated questions this week.

But there was one more question that snuck in under the wire. Veteran golf writer Alex Miceli, whom Tiger once stared down and sarcastically called a "beauty" in one of his most contentious press conferences ever, wanted to know if Tiger had thought about never playing competitively again.

"As positive as you sound, not knowing what your game could be like because you really haven't hit anything but 60-yard shots, could you see a scenario where you didn't come back to competitive golf?"

Woods said he missed the end of the question — the only part that mattered — and wanted Miceli to say it one more time, just to be clear. So he repeated:

"Could you see a scenario where you could not come back to competitive golf?"

And with the press conference coming to an end, Tiger gave us a little bit more than nothing.

"Yeah, definitely. I don't know what my future holds for me. As I've told you guys, I'm hitting 60-yard shots."

The Presidents Cup - Preview Day 3
Tiger with 2017 US captain Steve Stricker, and fellow assistant captain, Fred Couples.
Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The first two words were a notable, record-scratching answer, to be sure. And one that could be boiled down into tweets and headlines like "Tiger admits career may be over" and "Tiger says he may never play again." These are not inaccurate, even if the question led Tiger there a bit. Some context beyond the one sentence tweets was needed though.

Tiger went a little further than usual, publicly allowing for the possibility that he might not play competitive golf ever again. It's a scenario that definitely exists. Whether it's likely, remotely possible, or a scenario that exists in the same way that getting hit by a bus crossing the street tomorrow is a scenario that exists, is another matter and one in which Tiger was never going to provide more clarity.

We "don't know what the future holds" was a quick pivot back to Tiger using words to say nothing at all. At present, what we do know is that Woods is rehabbing with the goal of playing again. He's not shutting it down or retiring, which is a far less black-and-white notion in golf compared to other sports. In the context of the end of this Presidents Cup press conference, Tiger's answer may not be as dramatic as it appears in a headline. Whether it's one tournament, one month, or one more decade, the more likely scenario is that Woods plays competitively again.

As far as Tiger answers go, was this interesting? Yes. But was it indicative of much? Not really — a scenario of Tiger never playing again existed whether he answered one way or another. This was not some retirement announcement. A more interesting and instructive soliloquy would be the one we didn't really get, to Crouse's attempt at the why he even still needs anymore of it at all.