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Tiger Woods begins fading into the distance

No one wants to see the book on greatness close. And so you find yourself wanting to believe. You want to believe Tiger Woods will wake up, at 38, and his back will be fine once more. You want to believe his knees will be healed. You want to believe he can regain the same mental edge he once had. You want to believe he can master his driver, not to mention his putter. You want to believe the sheer torque of his swing will not work against his body. You want to believe he can make the rest of the field cower in the background.

Even now, your heart wants to believe he can be Tiger once again.

It is only your head that tells you that he cannot.

The Tiger Woods era is over. It pains me to write this, and perhaps it pains you to consider it. Acknowledgement comes hard with Woods, and even after all of these winless majors, the end seems stunningly swift. But this is Rory McIlroy's era now; Tiger is just a member of the supporting cast. Woods was so great for so long that the temptation was to believe that, eventually, he would regain it. Simple as that. There was so much talent there that anything else seemed too wasteful to consider. We had seen the way Woods played golf; surely, we would see it again. It was just a matter of time.

Why, Woods was going to get healthy, and once again, he was going to dominate. We believed in Woods more than we believed in injuries, more than we believed in time, more than we believed in his opponents, more than we believed that the game has changed around him.

Every day, with every ache, it becomes obvious that golf is no longer the private playground of Woods, the same way that the NBA no longer belongs to Michael Jordan and the NFL is no longer owned by Joe Montana and baseball is no longer owned by Derek Jeter. Time passes. Eras end.

A bad back seems to linger. Have you ever known anyone who had a bad back who no longer has a bad back?

It wasn't until Wednesday afternoon when Woods confirmed he would play today when the PGA Championship begins. He played half of a practice round Wednesday, then putted the second half, and pronounced himself ready to play.

Not many of us give him a real chance, do we? Not after we saw him pull out of the Bridgestone in agony. Not after we saw him rush back to the tour too soon after surgery.

If Woods cannot win this weekend, then his streak of consecutive majors without a trophy would run to 26. And the truth is, Woods has never seemed further away from triumph. This is a guy who once won eight out of 22 majors, remember?

These days, it is his age, or it is his health, or it is his swing, or it is his will, or it is the competition. Either way, the odds have never been longer against Woods. He has never seemed to be a worse bet.

Yeah, Tiger can still win. He's done it 14 times in non-majors since he last won the U.S. Open in 2008. Heck, if things go just right, he can probably still win a major. Maybe two.

But can he win five?

No, you admit. He can't. Even if he plays 10 more years, and 40 more tournaments, that's too much to ask.

Catch Jack? No one seems to believe that's going to happen anymore. There was a time when Tiger passing Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors seemed destined. Why, Tiger was going to win 25, wasn't he? Maybe 30? The question wasn't whether he would break Nicklaus' record, but how soon? And by how much?

On the other hand, no one expected that Tiger would pull an oh-for in majors from age 33 to 38, a span in which you thought he might win five or so. No one thought his body would turn on him. No one thought that scandal would derail him.

No one thought that Tiger would be mortal.

Oh, it is true that golfers can compete a lot longer than most athletes. Even Woods has acted as if he has all the time in the world. But how many golfers, even healthy golfers, won five more majors after they reached Woods age?

Zip, that's how many.

Nicklaus won four. Old Tom Morris, in the 1800s, won four. Sam Snead won three. Gary Player won three.

In other words, you are asking that Woods do something that no one has ever done, with a swing that several (including Nick Price) have questioned, at a time his body is a wreck, in a field that seems to have conquered its fear of him, riding a winless streak that has lasted longer than anyone ever suspected it would. It's a lot to ask.

From here, it's hard to see the green.

Oh, do not try to lessen what Woods has been. He was the most skilled golfer ever. No one ever dominated the tour the way he did. Few have ever been as charismatic. Woods will be remembered for the runaway victories, and for the money he won, for the commercials he filmed. He'll be remembered for the adultery, and for the shots, and for that grin. He'll be remembered for the fast start, and the painful finish, and for brilliance that faded too soon.

Most of all, he'll be remembered for the days he looked immortal.

And, sadly, for the days when life proved he was not.

Tiger Woods begins fading into the distance 08/06/14 [Last modified: Thursday, August 7, 2014 3:47pm]
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