A year that began with such promise for Tiger Woods has been reduced to another lost cause.
When Woods announced Thursday that he had undergone his fourth back surgery in the last three years, it was not met with the surprise or shock of his previous declarations.
The back spasms that caused him to withdraw from the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in February were supposed to last days, and instead bled into weeks and now months. With no end in sight, Woods has essentially pulled the plug on any hopes of playing the rest of the year and delivered another significant blow to the notion that golf fans will ever see him on top of his game again.
At age 41, after a number of reinventions and having spent more time on the disabled list than inside the ropes since 2014, Woods has arrived at another crossroads. While the glimmer that he’ll return to form still shines among his most ardent supporters, a more objective view indicates that we have likely seen the last of a once-great player.
From here on out, it’s all a bonus.
Woods alluded to as much during his funereal news conference at the 2015 Hero World Challenge, although at that point most people in the room – and perhaps Woods himself – assumed he was talking about wins, maybe contending in majors.
But given his latest plight, each competitive start he manages from this point forward should be viewed as an unexpected gift for fans to treasure.
“The purpose of this surgery is to eliminate the bad days,” Mark Steinberg, Woods’ agent, told GolfChannel.com. “He knows he’s got a long road, but there’s a huge sense of relief right now.”
Although the news release about the surgery on his website included only a single quote from Woods, it was a telling one.
“The surgery went well, and I’m optimistic this will relieve my back spasms and pain,” Woods said. “When healed, I look forward to getting back to a normal life, playing with my kids, competing in professional golf and living without the pain I have been battling so long.”
In previous iterations, the part about competing professionally might have been placed a bit higher. But Woods’ quote seems like an accurate reflection of where he now stands. His body is broken, and this time the top priority, according to Steinberg, is to regain a “healthy, active lifestyle.”
Right now, that might mean spending time with children Charlie and Sam in the backyard more than plotting a path to major No. 15.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. Woods is firmly entrenched in middle age, with two kids by his side who clearly serve as a beacon of positivity in his life.
But it’s a far cry from the on-course goals he set months ago, when he carved out an ambitious schedule that included four worldwide starts in a five-week span.
After so many rushed returns from injury and aborted comeback attempts, it seemed Woods had finally taken the conservative path by sitting out nearly all of 2016. When he returned in the Bahamas in December, his game showed signs of progress and he sounded as optimistic as he had in years.
But that optimism lasted all of three rounds, as he limped away from Dubai just as he had at Torrey Pines, or PGA National, or Firestone in recent memory.
And now he’s back to square one.
Steinberg explained that Woods has been consulting with various doctors “over the past several weeks,” and that once he lost hope of a return at the Masters he zeroed in on this latest procedure as his best, long-term solution.
“His entire emphasis is on quality of life,” Steinberg said. “That includes living day-to-day pain-free, playing with his kids, playing competitive golf, going out in the backyard and having fun with his friends. Getting on his boat and doing what he wants in the water. It’s all of that.”
Woods is no longer a former champion trying to find his way back to the top of the mountain. Those days of reps, feels and release patterns are in the rear-view mirror.
Instead, he’s a man – one whose body has ached for far too long, one who has spent months seeking treatment without discernible improvement. He is a father who wants to be able to play with his kids for the next decade and beyond.
At some point in the grand scheme of things, thoughts of golf and competitive glory can re-enter the picture. But after this latest setback, that day seems farther away than ever.