NASSAU, Bahamas – The parallels were impossible to ignore.
“It’s been tough to watch him go through the season he’s had, and it’s understandably so, he’s been there for 20 years,” Tiger Woods said on Tuesday at his own Hero World Challenge.
Woods was talking about the news that Kobe Bryant plans to retire after this season, but as anyone with even a passing interest in the world No. 400 could attest, the comment could just as easily have been directed at Tiger.
Following his second microdiscectomy operation in September after what could only be classified as another lost season, Woods appeared to be overly optimistic in a press release that estimated he could return in “early 2016.”
A follow-up “procedure,” the details of which are still unclear, in October, however, undercut that optimism. On Tuesday there was no timeline, no silver lining, no end game and, at least for anything that would be considered long term, no game plan.
“That’s the hardest part for me is there’s really nothing I can look forward to, nothing I can build towards,” said Woods, who completed his 20th year on Tour with just a single top-10 finish in 11 starts in 2015.
For a player whose career was defined by a singular certainty – winning – the unknown now looms over Woods with unrelenting obscurity.
Woods was asked the last time he swung a golf club, “About two months ago ... I hit a chip shot left-handed.” And how he’s filling his days. “I walk.” He plays videos games and pines to mix it up with his kids in the back yard.
And he misses golf.
“I really do miss it,” he allowed. “I miss being out here with the boys and mixing it up with them and see who can win the event. That's fun.”
Some have suggested that as the game has become increasingly difficult for Woods and favorable results fewer and further between, his interest in the day job would, perhaps understandably, wane.
Perhaps the most misunderstood element of the Woods persona is the idea that greatness came easily to him. What was lost in that analysis was that each tournament was always bookended by endless hours of practice and preparation.
It would be only logical to figure that with injuries and age and his daddy duties, the singular - maybe even selfish - drive that made him great would soften.
That theory gained momentum when Davis Love III announced two weeks ago that Woods had accepted a job as vice captain for next year’s Ryder Cup. It was seen in some circles as a sign, however obscure or unintended, that perhaps he was preparing for the next chapter in his career; that, through a litany of injuries, the end was much closer than the beginning.
That logic is at least partially flawed considering that Woods committed to the Ryder Cup in whatever role Love needed long before he went under the knife in September. In short, his commitment to the matches and any possible exit strategy from golf would very much be mutually exclusive.
But on Tuesday in paradise there was a gap in the fortress, a rare acknowledgment that this most recent injury carried a sobering uncertainty; that unlike his previous medical misadventures he would not be able to overcome this most recent setback through sheer force of will.
“Pretty much everything beyond this will be gravy,” said Woods, who turns 40 on Dec. 30. “For my 20 years out here I think I’ve achieved a lot, and if that’s all it entails, then I’ve had a pretty good run. But I’m hoping that’s not it.”
Although well short of a retirement speech, it was for Woods a rare nostalgic glimpse into the unknown that for two decades he avoided like three-putts and penalty strokes.
He talked of passing Jack Nicklaus on the all-time PGA Tour majors list and Sam Snead in total wins in the same breath as he considered what could be his second career as a golf course designer or perhaps a philanthropist. But most of all he envisioned spending quality time with his children.
“I miss being able to play with the kids,” he said. “I just can’t bend over that well or I’m not athletic to be able to do those things.”
Woods wants to compete again, he wants to win tournaments and play for Love next fall at the Ryder Cup and do all the things that came so naturally to the 30-year-old version; but that all depends on an injury that has frighteningly few answers right now.
On Sunday after a 107-103 loss to the Indiana Pacers, Bryant told the media, “I’ve decided to accept that I can't actually do this anymore, and I'm OK with that. It takes a weight off my shoulders and everybody else’s.”
Woods isn’t there yet. He may not even be as close as some seem to think he is, but after 20 long seasons and three back surgeries the similarities between the two legends were impossible to ignore, with one heading into his golden years and the other drifting slowly toward the unknown.