The return of Tiger Woods the great? Be willing to wait
Golf galleries from Augusta National to Quail Hollow to the TPC Sawgrass have made it overwhelmingly clear that they want Tiger Woods back -- the old great Tiger, that is.
They have welcomed and encouraged him, while almost never heckling him. He crashed over the winter; few want to see him burn. Most of us, after watching his self-inflicted torments of the past six months, pull for Woods to fix himself and his mighty golf game, too.
So, it's painful to ask the obvious: Even as Woods is trying to put his life back together, is he falling apart as a golfer?
For now, after a 43 on the last nine at Quail Hollow to miss the cut and then the sight of him quitting Sunday at the Players Championship because of a pain in his neck, the short-term answer is plain to see: Yes, of course he is. Tiger, a 43? Woods, quit?
The question has changed: Can Tiger put himself back together?
Given time, very likely. After all, we're talking about golf, where careers last almost forever. Woods has 25 years to fix body, mind and spirit before he's as old as Tom Watson was when he almost won the British Open last summer.
But will Woods ever be the sport's dominant champion again?
That is increasingly coming into doubt. And it's happening at the same general age that former No. 1 players such as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Watson saw their eras of supremacy fade, leaving them as adored perennial contenders, but rarely winners of the greatest prizes in their sport.
Woods will have an MRI exam this week to determine if he has a bulging disc that, in a worst-case scenario, might require season-ending surgery.
"That's as angry and frustrated as I've been in a long time," Woods said Monday of his decision to quit mid-round.
Pros quit events on Thursdays and Fridays for injuries. But it's part of golf's unwritten code that players, especially great ones, almost never leave the course in a final round.
It's a measure of Woods's pain, especially the cramping in his neck, that he couldn't continue, even though he won the 2008 U.S. Open playing on a stress-fractured left leg and an almost shredded knee.