LOS ANGELES – Early on Thursday at Riviera, The Woods, a satellite version of Tiger Woods’ signature bistro situated adjacent to Riviera Country Club’s iconic 10th hole, sat empty.
It was well before the cocktail hour on the West Coast and a heavy blanket of fog probably didn’t leave many would-be patrons in a celebratory mood, but the scene did provide a fitting metaphor for this week’s unofficial host.
A few weeks back, when Woods was in Los Angeles for the Genesis Open media day, there was a palpable sense of optimism.
“I’ve sat out long enough,” declared Woods, who missed all of the 2016 season following multiple back procedures.
Woods was on the cusp of what promised to be a busy return to the spotlight. He was set to play to four events in five weeks with stops in California (the Farmers Insurance Open and this week’s Genesis Open), the United Arab Emirates (Omega Dubai Desert Classic) and Florida (Honda Classic).
“That is a concern, there’s no doubt about it,” Woods said when asked about the rigors of the schedule he had set for himself. “But I’m also looking forward to it.”
Woods wouldn’t be nearly as optimistic if he were asked the same question today. He’s played just three competitive rounds since then, a missed cut at Torrey Pines followed by a withdrawal in Dubai after an opening 77, and he’s currently laid up with back spasms.
He’s literally laid up, as in horizontal, to the point that he was advised by his doctors to not participate in a press conference this week at Riviera. Forget about hitting a few shots for a clinic or glad-handing sponsors like he did in Dubai after withdrawing. Woods couldn’t sit in a chair and answer questions. Or maybe he just didn’t want to; it’s hard to say.
It’s tough to blame Tiger for opting out of another media meet-and-greet given the narrative the last year and a half.
“It would have gone like many of them has gone the past several weeks – a lot of questions and no answers. Frustrating for him,” his manager Mark Steinberg told the Associated Press on Wednesday. “But he has given full, maximum effort to get back out here.”
Of all the things Woods is wanting these days, chief among them mobility and an absence of pain, it's his utter lack of answers that perhaps haunts him most.
It’s not like a man with 14 majors and his own yacht needs anyone’s sympathy, but dancing around questions he doesn’t have answers for must certainly lack even the slightest appeal.
“Based on the work [his doctors] did the last couple of days, they advised he just stay horizontal. It's best to listen to the doctors. The ultimate goal is to get out and play,” Steinberg said.
Day to day would probably be the best way to describe Woods’ current condition, but for a man, any man, who is spending his days “horizontal,” the mind must drift beyond the immediate future.
While the golf world fixates on Woods’ next possible start, the likely option being the Arnold Palmer Invitational in four weeks, Tiger can be forgiven if he starts to consider the next chapter in his life, be it competitive or otherwise.
Woods flew to SoCal with the best of intentions. He couldn’t play, but at least he could be here to support a tournament that supports his own foundation.
That he simply traded an East Coast couch for one on the West Coast is certainly concerning.
That he couldn’t make his way to the Genesis Open press tent for a Q&A is baffling.
That he would have had no answers to familiar questions is what’s truly troubling.