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Wounded Tiger headed for extinction?

By: Golf Shake | Thu 12 Feb 2015

Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements 

TIGER WOODS' announcement that he is taking another break from golf should surprise nobody. The real surprise may well be if he ever returns to the game that has made him one of the wealthiest sportsmen on the planet.

"Right now, I need a lot of work on my game, and to still spend time with the people that are important to me," he said. "My play, and scores, are not acceptable for tournament golf. Like I've said before, I enter a tournament to compete at the highest level, and when I think I'm ready, I'll be back."

He is entered for the Honda Classic at the end of the month but has made it clear he has no intention of being there unless he feels he can compete. I would be flabbergasted if he plays. Woods insists that his back injury has nothing to do with the surgery he underwent last year and he has dismissed fears that the latest injury could end his career.

Tiger Woods Open Championship Twitter

Not that it will have played any part in his decision, but Woods may well wonder what Anirban Lahiri, Tommy Fleetwood and Danny Willett all have in common. No idea? Well, what about Steve Stricker, Brooks Kopepka, Marc Warren and Mikko Ilonen? Still no clue? Well let me put you - and Tiger - out of your misery. When the latest world rankings were released on Monday morning, all of the aforementioned men found themselves ahead of Woods, the 14-time major champion. They have also secured themselves places in the field for the WGC Cadillac championship at Doral - something Woods has failed to achieve.

It is as if it couldn't be, but it gets worse. Just 12 months ago, Woods was the top-ranked golfer on the planet. He withdrew from the Honda Classic, missed the cut at the Quicken Loans, finished 69th at The Open, withdrew from the Bridgestone Invitational, missed the cut at the US PGA championship (where he was in such pain that he could barely walk), finished last in the Hero Challenge, finished last at the Phoenix Open and withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines last week.

Over the years, he has owned the Bridgestone Invitational and Farmers Insurance Open. His second round of 82 at Phoenix was his worst ever score as a professional. Instead of heading to the practice ground to sort out his game in preparation for Torrey Pines he went to the ski slopes to watch his girlfriend, Lindsey Vonn, in action.

To put this in perspective, during his two rounds in Phoenix, while he claimed that his back was as good as it has been for years, he could barely hit a fairway and his chipping was just plain awful - as bad as you would expect to see from a 28-handicapper. Not only that, but he could barely escape from a bunker without blading the ball.

Think back to Woods in his prime. After a poor round, and knowing he was back in action the following week, would he ever have done anything other than beat thousands of balls to ensure the gremlins had gone? Of course he wouldn't.

It seems that Woods has already accepted what the rest of us must. His days as a golfer who left us both breathless and speechless are gone, probably forever. Forget all about the wayward drives. Tiger Woods has never been a player who hit fairways. But he could always conjure up magical recovery shots.

In many ways, he was like Seve Ballesteros. Just when you thought he was down and out, he would produce a shot that was impossible. His last major victory came at the 2008 US Open, when he won at the 91st hole on a broken leg.

There was that unforgettable chip he holed at the 16th during The Masters in 2005. There were bunker shots, approaches to within inches, miraculous pitches that disappeared into the hole and putt after putt that vanished into the centre of the cup, leaving his rivals shaking their heads in disbelief.

There was his astonishing 12-shot victory at The Masters in 1997, when he ripped up the record books. And his spellbinding, steamrollering 15-shot triumph at the US Open at Pebble Beach in 2000, followed weeks later by destroying the field in The Open at St Andrews by eight shots while he was still only 24 years old.

His rivals used to see his name on the leaderboard and give up. Now his rivals, all much younger and fitter, see his name and feel only pity. Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Martin Kaymer, Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth were inspired by Tiger's deeds and dreamed of one day challenging him.

Ballesteros crashed and burned too early. Woods seems certain to suffer the same fate. Like Seve, Tiger is a proud man. Like Seve, he is driven by a will to win. Finishing second is anathema to him, so you can only begin to imagine the inner turmoil he must be going through.

Or is he? Has watching his girlfriend tear down the ski slopes become more important to him than breaking par? And if it has, is it because even he now knows that he will never climb the heights again?

Watching Seve try and fail to recapture the glory days was heartbreaking, and Seve was a far more loved athlete than Tiger has ever been. There remains the hope that he might somehow find the spark again but most of us who care about this great game know within our hearts that if Woods can't challenge at this year's four majors then the game may finally be up for him.

He may still make it to Augusta and he may even find a way to get into contention, but don't hold your breath. If he can't, don't be surprised to hear him announce his retirement from tournament golf. Nobody likes to see a great champion struggle. Woods has arguably been the best we have ever seen. He would hate to be remembered as anything but that.

Image credit - Open Championship Twitter

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