By now, you’ve probably seen the video of Tiger Woods rinsing three wedge shots during the media day for the Quicken Loans National, the tournament that benefits his foundation. On a brisk, blustery morning, with no warm-up, Woods couldn’t hit the green from 102 yards away, each timid strike lacking the proper distance, speed and conviction.
Though tempting to draw a conclusion from that clip – the U.S. Open, after all, begins in 30 days – even more revealing was an exchange with Washington Post reporter Barry Svrluga later that day.
As he documented at the end of this story, Svrluga asked Woods whether he still sees himself fulfilling the role of ceremonial tournament host once his playing career is over – you know, like Jack and Arnie and Byron, shaking hands, telling stories.
“Mmmmm-hmmmm,” Woods replied. “Yep.”
Svrluga followed up: Really? Why?
“Ask me that question later this year,” Woods said. “I’ll have a different answer.”
That could mean anything, of course. Over the years, he and his team have run more misdirection plays than a Pop Warner football team. But re-read that cryptic answer, and the most obvious interpretation is that Woods is on the verge of retirement; that six months after conceding any other accomplishments will be “gravy,” not much has changed.
He signs up for majors, but only because it’s standard procedure.
He says he’s getting stronger, but he lacks the endurance to log any substantial practice time.
He says he’s progressing, but he still hasn’t played 18 consecutive holes.
He says he wants to return, but neither he nor his doctors know when, or if, that day will come.
“Whether that’s by next week or that’s a year from now,” Woods said Monday at Congressional Country Club, “I don’t know.”
Deep down, maybe he does, or there would be little use contemplating his life after golf.
Maybe he’s tired of trying to recover, of trying to heal his brittle body. Maybe he knows he’s one swing away from sabotaging his quality of life.
Maybe he knows now that even if he’s healthy, he can’t keep pace with today’s best players – not least his mentee, world No. 1 Jason Day, with his mammoth drives, sky-high irons and silky putting stroke. Maybe Woods knows that he’s set up to fail, his recovery so harshly scrutinized that his three water balls landed on the cover of Tuesday’s USA Today.
It’s not hard to imagine any of those scenarios.
As usual with Woods, there are far more questions than answers. But read those ominous words again – Ask me that question later this year. I’ll have a different answer – and you get the sense that he already realizes how this latest comeback will end.