Tiger faces uncertain future

Tiger faces uncertain future

Published May. 12, 2011 1:00 a.m. ET

A forlorn Tiger Woods was walking gingerly toward his white Mercedes when PGA Tour official Stephen Cox approached him in the TPC Sawgrass parking lot.

Cox told Woods, who minutes earlier had withdrawn from The Players Championship after just nine holes of his opening round, that he needed to go to the medical trailer for examination.

“Do I have to?” a bemused Woods responded.

Did they think he was faking it?


Was it not obvious that Woods’ surgically reconstructed knee had given out as he limped his way to a 6-over-par 42, leaving him dead last in the field when he pulled out?

Standard procedure when a player withdraws from a tournament, Woods was told.

He broke into a sarcastic smile, shook his head and let out a sigh, maybe in acknowledgement that, these days, whatever can go wrong for him goes very wrong.

Golf’s fallen star now faces a future more uncertain than ever after Thursday’s latest setback.

“I have,” he replied when asked if he had concerns about his leg.

Woods has had four operations on a knee that bears the impact of golf’s most high-octane swing.

The joint was totally reconstructed in 2008, and then he injured the knee again — along with the Achilles' tendon — while hitting a shot out of pine straw in the third round of the Masters last month.

The injury left him wearing a protective boot and needing daily treatment.

Although his camp characterized the injury as minor, it was serious enough to force Woods to withdraw from last week’s Wells Fargo Championship, held at Charlotte’s Quail Hollow, a course he loves.

Why he even showed up at The Players — a tournament he doesn’t have much love for and played on a course he dislikes — remains a mystery.

Maybe he felt he needed to repay tour commissioner Tim Finchem for allowing him to use the Sawgrass clubhouse as the venue for last year’s televised apology for the wake of his scandal.

Or maybe he just felt he needed to get in some practice before next month’s US Open at Congressional Country Club.

Or maybe he was just trying to do the right thing and show up at the tour’s marquee event.

Whatever the motivation, it was clearly a mistake.

Woods wasn’t ready to play this tournament, in any sense.

Not only was there a real chance of re-aggravating the knee and Achilles', but he was completely undercooked, hitting balls Monday for the first time since the Masters.

Woods played only nine holes of practice Tuesday and again Wednesday.

Neither did he seem particularly enthused Thursday morning.

“He was not into this golf tournament,” said former tour player and television analyst Mark Lye, who followed Woods. “Looked like he was going through the motions.”

Maybe Woods knew what was ahead.

Although he’d had only “minimal” swelling after playing nine holes Wednesday and said he’d “felt fine” during his warm-up, things went pear-shaped from the opening tee shot.

He sprayed a 3-wood way left.

“I was just trying to draw that ball out there just a little bit. I pushed forward, and, you know, it just didn’t feel good,” he later said.

“The knee acted up and then the Achilles' followed after that and then the calf started cramping up.

“Everything started getting tight, so it’s just a whole chain reaction.”

Woods hit only one green in regulation in nine holes and his short game, needless to say, wasn’t sharp. He chunked a pitch shot into the water on the fourth — after dunking his approach — and then made a 20-footer for triple bogey.

Once he bogeyed the ninth, he handed his scorecard to Martin Kaymer and informed him and Matt Kuchar that he was withdrawing.

He said later he should’ve come off earlier.

Now his future’s in his doctors’ hands.

“Give me a few days to see what the docs say,” he said.

What he doesn’t need them to tell him is that it’s impossible to play golf with a knee that has been churned into hamburger meat.

It’s far too soon to say, as some have, that Woods is in any way finished.

He is still only 35.

Even if it’s an old 35.