Now, at 37, he says he realizes he must adjust to age and injury. Yet he still hasn’t — not quite. This very injury is a microcosm of all the others but also a mirror of his insatiable drive. Will he ever learn? Or could he and still be Tiger?
Woods won’t be at Congressional Country Club, site of his own victory in this event last June, when the first round starts Thursday. He’ll keep track of top players who remain in a somewhat depleted field, like Masters winner Adam Scott and his rising Australian countryman Jason Day, as well as top U.S. players like Brandt Snedeker, Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler, Nick Watney and Jim Furyk.
This week’s lesson for Woods is a biting one: At every stage of his career, including the last few weeks, he has pushed himself to play through pain — and sometimes through injury — to a level that has seemed excessive, with hindsight, even to him.
In May, Woods hurt his left elbow at the Players. “It wasn’t a single shot that did it” at the Players, Woods said. “It didn’t feel good early in the week, but I pushed through it. It progressively just got worse. Got to a point where I was starting to struggle a little bit.”
Because he was already in discomfort and “struggling,” he played in Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial tournament, an event on which this AT&T National is somewhat modeled. Nobody wants to disappoint Jack or appear to be a lame no-show. So once more, Woods pushed through — and finished 20 shots behind. Does he regret playing the Memorial? “I wouldn’t necessarily say regret. I wish I’d played better so I didn’t have so many [trouble] shots I had to hit,” Woods said. With hindsight, better to bag it?
“It would have been better, yes,” he said Wednesday.
So by toughing it out (again), he damaged his chances at the U.S. Open, where he winced in pain often and faded on Sunday; now, he has to skip his own event so he can — maybe, if he’s lucky — be almost ready to put his best play on display at the British Open next month at Muirfield.
When Woods’s legacy is summed up, his most melodramatic win will probably be his 91-hole victory at the ’08 U.S. Open while playing on a broken leg. What other modern golfer would even have attempted it? But how many times in majors, especially in recent years, have Woods’s injuries cost him a chance to be in the field or to compete at full strength? Will both the ’13 U.S. and British Opens eventually fall into the “hindered” category?
“I listened to my docs, and [I am] not touching a club,” Woods said Wednesday. “Eventually I’ll start the strengthening process of it. Then start hitting balls to get up to speed for the British.”