If you want to know my initial reaction, I felt sick and really for the first time I felt sad thinking about Tiger’s return. Sure, watching him chunk chips a couple of years ago was not fun and yes the last 18 months have been different without Woods around, but I never felt like it was the end during any of that time.
This morning was a different feeling. One that probably caught me by surprise because we’ve seen the patience Woods has shown during his recovery, we’ve heard from friends, from other pros that “he’s close,” and from Woods himself that things feel better and that he is optimistic. We saw flashes of good golf from Tiger at the Hero World Challenge all leading us to believe that he’s done it correctly this time and he will be ok. While his play struggled at Torrey Pines, we attributed that to the pace of play, the cooler temperatures, and it being his first official PGA Tour start back.
Woods appeared to be swinging the club well in Dubai. Sure he was walking gingerly, but the swing looked pain free and he said as much after the opening round. The hope was that he would get some rest and come out feeling ok during the second round.
Fast forward to today and now we’ve got 41-year-old Tiger Woods citing back spasms as his reason for withdrawing from an event halfway around the globe that he never should have played in to begin with. There was no upside to Woods entering a tournament in Dubai. What good is it for an athlete who has suffered from back issues for years to fly for 17 hours when there is no need to do it? So what if they paid him a ridiculously large amount of money; he doesn’t need it!
Woods should not have gone to Dubai; instead he should have taken his chances at the Phoenix Open where the temperatures have averaged in the 70’s during the day if he felt like he had to play this week. Maybe he makes the cut there and maybe he doesn’t, but at least there isn’t a long flight involved.
Now we have to wait a couple of weeks before we get to see exactly how Woods is feeling on the course. His next event, the Genesis Open, starts on February 16th. If Woods plays and can manage to make the cut, it’s worth giving him a chance, but if he withdraws or misses the cut it is going to make it really difficult for someone like me, who–and you can call me crazy–won’t say Tiger is completely done until he admits that to himself.
As Golf Channel’s Justin Ray points out, Tiger has more withdrawals since 2014 than he has top 10’s.
If you want to know how players felt about Tiger being in Dubai, look no further than young Matthew Fitzpatrick, who said, “For me, growing up watching him, to be able to play with him yesterday and have the opportunity to play with him today and not being able to today was obviously disappointing, but obviously he has to do what’s right for him and hopefully everything’s all right with him and he’ll be back soon.”
It may not be the end if Woods doesn’t play the Genesis, and this withdrawal may just be Tiger learning his new body, but it definitely isn’t a great sign.