Rarely have you seen a sadder sporting sight. As the buggy pulled into the car park yesterday it revealed the greatest golfer of his generation and the greatest golfing athlete of all time with a face creased with pain.
When Tiger Woods tried to stand up, the sense of shock among the few eyewitnesses was palpable. It was like watching an 80-year-old man crippled by arthritis. For one awful moment, it looked like he wouldn’t be able to make it.
Eventually he did so but the effort was such he had to put both hands on the roof of his courtesy vehicle, a grey Cadillac Escalade, for a minute or so to recover.
Watching him take off his golf shoes and put on his sneakers was so excruciating the instinct was to look away. It was as much as he could do to raise his right leg the inches it took to enable him to kick off his shoe, and he clutched his lower back. The man who did more than any other to make the game an athletic pursuit had come to this.
My mind wandered back to an interview earlier in the year with Canadian Graeme DeLaet, who had an operation for a herniated disc similar to the one that Woods had in March. He thought he was fine too, only for his back to go as he tried to play a shot from thick rough. It was a year before he felt right — and he was 28 at the time, not 38.
Seeing Woods in such distress, the idea that he could be part of the field for the USPGA Championship this week was untenable, while American Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson can forget about him. You can’t take a man whose back might go at any minute. What a week Watson has had. He’s probably only just come to terms with the Dustin Johnson saga and now he’s got this on his plate. Still, all his thoughts will be with the stricken Woods, as he contemplates what will surely prove another lengthy time away from the game.
Where it all went wrong was on the second hole. Ironically, Woods had begun with a birdie but yet another stray drive left him in an awkward spot with his ball perched on top of a bunker.
Even at the time, it seemed a reckless play to try to propel the ball a good distance forward, for by necessity it meant he would tumble back into the bunker. But he took it on, and duly retreated into the sand at a jarring angle.
During his prime athletic years, of course, there would have been no repercussions. But Woods felt a sickening pain that began just above his right buttock that wouldn’t go away. ‘I don’t know what happened, I just jarred it and it has been in spasm ever since,’ he said.
At the par-three fifth he hit a tee shot so badly it finished 68 yards short of the flag. At the sixth, he was so wayward his ball finished in a hot dog stand. At the par-four ninth, he had one more swing with his driver and then he was done. He collapsed onto his haunches and the world knew what would happen next. Will we see him again this year? It seems highly unlikely.
Golf will go on very nicely without him, for a new generation led by Rory McIlroy is leaving its mark. But it’s hard not to have enormous sympathy for the man who made us all dream at one point that he could achieve the unthinkable and chase down Jack Nicklaus’s total of 18 majors.
The golfing world will gather at Valhalla this week, the place where Woods won a playoff for the USPGA in 2000. It was his third major win in a row on his way to 14, and he looked omnipotent.
At 38 and no age for a golfer, the story should all have been about his return to past glories and his hopes of pulling off another triumph. Instead he’s where he was before back surgery in March, a scary world of uncertainty where the professionals are of the medical variety rather than his peers.
You wish him the best but fear the worst. – Daily Mail