Tiger Woods appeared poised to make a fresh start, putting behind the struggles of last season and building upon his T-10 finish last month at the Wyndham Championship.
Instead, his body has again betrayed him, and we are all left to wonder what lies ahead.
Woods announced Friday that he underwent microdiscectomy surgery on Sept. 16. It is the same surgery he had in March 2014, one that kept him sidelined for nearly three months, and will keep him out of action for the forseeable future.
The news release was more like an explosion, setting fire to any and all expectations we had for Woods entering next season. Only the questions persist.
When will we see him next? Woods has targeted early 2016, but what is certain is that he will miss a handful of fall starts, notably the Frys.com Open where he was expected to headline the field alongside Rory McIlroy. Whatever glimmer of progress was forged at the Wyndham will now atrophy as Woods sits on the sidelines.
Momentum can be a golfer's best friend – just ask Jason Day. But time and again, Woods has been unable to conjure any in the last two years, both within singular rounds and on a more macro level.
It has been awhile since Woods has played great golf, sure, but it has also been awhile since he has had a clean bill of health for any considerable length of time. The two continue to go hand-in-hand.
Did he come back too early? The last time Woods faced a recovery from microdiscectomy surgery, he said it would sideline him for "several weeks." He missed the Masters for the first time as a pro and returned after 11 weeks at the Quicken Loans National, a tournament that benefits his foundation. He displayed significant amounts of rust in his first two starts, then withdrew from the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational when his back again flared up.
This time around, Woods has ceded that the injury will sideline him into next year. Part of that decision is dictated by the golf calendar, but part may be a desire to play it safe(r) the second time around.
While he declared himself injury-free at several tournaments this summer, Woods did allude to some hip trouble last month in Greensboro. But this diagnosis appears to have caught him off-guard, given the fact that he offered his commitment to the season opener only last week.
While there is no way to know if a few extra weeks off last summer could have prevented this setback, it seems a fair question to ponder as he prepares to embark on the same road to recovery that he trod only 18 months ago.
Then there is the issue of the ever-ticking clock. What does his body have left? Woods will turn 40 on Dec. 30, crossing a landmark birthday before he next tees it up. The uphill battle facing the over-40 club has been well-documented, both on the PGA Tour and at the majors, although Woods' record means he should not necessarily be held to the limitations of his predecessors.
But Father Time chases even the greats, and he appears to have once again closed the gap on Woods. Woods has long insisted that a back injury poses a more difficult recovery than a knee injury, one with which he has had plenty of experience. Now he faces the dreaded re-injury in an already difficult area, opting for surgery to try to seal the dam after the first attempt allowed a leak to spring.
Copies of copies lose their legibility. Battery capacities begin to erode after a certain number of charges. With this latest setback, the hopes that Woods will ever return to 100 percent – or even the lofty heights of his five-win campaign in 2013 – only grow more faint.
How exactly he will respond, how tall Woods will stand after again getting knocked down, remains a mystery. Just as we began to feel comfortable with our expectations for one of the game's greats, we are again left with only more questions.