Tiger's tale full of questions and confusion

RSS

It’s been all backwards for a while now, hasn’t it?

The chunked chips, the bladed pitches, the golf cart whisking Tiger Woods to another parking lot.

Not everyone gets to be John Elway, winning two Super Bowls and exiting stage left, or Jack Nicklaus, winning the Masters at 46, but who had Tiger spending his last year in his 30s missing greens from next to the green?

The vision of Willie Mays falling down in center field and Mike Tyson stumbling around the canvas after a Buster Douglas right hand are sports’ most vivid examples of icons seeing their mythicized skill become mortal.

But this? This one has been a strange, slow bleed.

On Wednesday, Tiger released a statement on his website that he would be practicing at Medalist Golf Club and at home, where he plans to get ready for the rest of the year. He said he was committed to getting back to the pinnacle of his game.

In days gone by, these would have all been givens. There would have been no need for a 200-word mission statement with an uncertain mission. But this is the universe the 14-time major champion is occupying these days, one of injury and confusion, cloak and dagger, starts and stops.


Video: How did Tiger fall so far so fast?


The golf world is confused, too, and throwing out theories. He’s in love. He’s injured. He doesn’t practice enough. He’s practicing the wrong things. He doesn’t care about breaking Nicklaus’s record anymore. He’s suffering from swing-change overload. He’s suffering from the yips. He’s suffering, once more, from his scandal in 2009.

That Tiger emerged from that dark episode at all speaks to his once-in-a-lifetime talent and mental strength. But for time immemorial in sports, the highest skill and strongest will eventually give out.

What’s next for Tiger on the doorstep of 40? On some level, he must know this is going to be Sisyphean, patching himself together one more time, digging out of another hole only to see Rory McIlroy and a bunch of 20somethings standing in the fairway.

At the height of his power, you’d never bet against Tiger. He ruled the golf world and everything in it. He drove the conversation, willed in putts, hit shots that made you huddle by the water cooler.

Now he seems victimized by that endless glare, caught between swing philosophies while playing in the featured group, another PGA Tour season poised to march on without him. 

Two weeks ago in Phoenix, his legion of fans did what they could to lift him up. When one saw the No. 5 next to his last name on the standard bearer’s scoreboard, she said, “Tiger’s 5 under,” before someone explained that a black five meant he was 10 shots higher.

Maybe the love from his fans will be an asset – as Nicklaus’ and Palmer’s were during their fallow periods – but the heavy lifting is up to him and he must be tired.

After his career-worst 82 and missed cut in Phoenix, I followed Tiger to one more parking lot, shocked that he had stopped to speak to the media at all. He took off his hardly used silver and black golf shoes. He handed them to a clothing rep.

I waited for a grimace, a shake of the head, a curse word, the slam of a trunk, the peeling of rubber.

Instead, Tiger Woods did the darndest thing, just one more oddity to throw into this strange brew.

He smiled.