The following isn’t meant as a defense of Tiger Woods, but if the shoe fits...
When Woods withdrew from last year’s WGC-CA Championship while far off the lead on the 12th hole of the final round, there was public outcry – not a majority opinion, but certainly not a silent minority, either – that he was earning a reputation as a quitter, despite just four previous withdrawals as a professional. When Woods continued competing in all four rounds of this past week’s U.S. Open despite a left-elbow strain – finishing in a share of 32nd place – there was again public outcry, this time bemoaning his supposed penchant for showing pain when not on top of the leaderboard.
Hey, don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.
The facts are that Woods was first seen favoring the elbow after his second shot on the first hole of the opening round at Merion Golf Club. When asked about the injury one day later, he was hardly transparent, but did offer that he initially suffered the injury during “one of the rounds” while winning The Players Championship.
Wednesday’s announcement that Woods will take “a few weeks off” before returning for next month’s Open Championship should quash any sentiment that his reactions were anything less than genuine. Excluding the major championships, there are few events he would less prefer to miss than his own AT&T National. In fact, he still won’t miss the event, saying on his personal website, “I look forward to being there to provide my support.”
The lingering question will now switch from “How badly is he injured?” to “How much will this affect the remainder of his season?” While only time will tell the severity of the strain, history shows that Woods will undoubtedly recover yet again.
This is the now the sixth consecutive season in which the world’s No. 1-ranked player has been affected by injury, with varying degrees of success in varying increments of time after each.
When he played the 2008 U.S. Open with a torn ACL and multiple stress fractures in his tibia, Woods required surgery and missed the remainder of the season. Upon returning two months into the next year, he followed a second-round exit at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship with a T-9 at Doral, then a win at Bay Hill two weeks later – one of six victories that season.
His 2010 season started in April because of a self-imposed leave of absence, but was again interrupted because of a neck injury on the seventh hole of his final round at The Players. Though Woods failed to win that year, his subpar return one month later was more likely blamed on the personal scandal that delayed his start as opposed to the neck issue.
In what became a trend at TPC Sawgrass, he also withdrew from the 2011 edition of the event after just nine holes because of knee and Achilles injuries suffered one month earlier at the Masters. He would be sidelined three more months, then fail to finish better than 30th in three late-season starts.
Last year, it was a leg injury that forced his withdrawal at Doral. Carted off the course and followed by overhead cameras while driving down the nearby highway, we were left to wonder about the extent of another such medical issue. That wonderment lasted exactly two weeks, when he returned to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
In the aftermath of this latest injury, many observers will try to extrapolate Woods’ elbow strain into a sign of getting older or increased fragility. Sometimes an elbow strain, though, is just an elbow strain.
There is little reason to believe he won’t return from this one – hardly the worst of his afflictions in recent years – sooner rather than later. Save for the final two majors of 2008 following surgery, he’s missed just two others since turning professional.
All of which leads to one other observation that has also received public attention: Since first suffering these injuries five years ago, Woods has yet to win another major.
To that notion, there is no defense.