Tiger's latest setback feels like the golf gods kicking a man when he's down

Tiger’s latest setback feels like the golf gods kicking a man when he’s down

Tiger Woods hasn't played competitively since withdrawing from the Players Championship after nine holes.
Fred Vuich/SI

Fred Couples, the 54-hole leader at the 1998 Masters, was pontificating in the media pavilion when he sighed and tried to put things in perspective. "I wish I was Tiger's age," Couples said, "but when he's 30 I think he's going to be spent."

That throwaway line is looking more prophetic by the day. Woods, 35, announced Tuesday he will not play in next week's U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club, opting instead to rest his injured left knee and Achilles. (For all you Anders Hansen fans out there, he also withdrew.) The way things have been going for Woods, his news, while disappointing, comes as no surprise. Since finishing T4 at the Masters, where his putting let him down and he reinjured his left leg in the third round, he has played just nine holes of competitive golf, at the Players.

And now we get the news that he'll miss his national championship for the first time since 1994. Next thing you know he's going to tell us his dog died. He has looked spent this season just as he looked spent last season. He has not won on the PGA Tour since Sept. 13, 2009, at the BMW Championship. He won the JBWere Australian Masters in November, before his Thanksgiving-night car accident and the beginning of the end of life as he knew it. He turned 34 in December of that year, and nothing's been the same since.

Turns out Freddy was off by just four years.

"Not playing in US Open," Woods tweeted Tuesday. "Very disappointed. Short-term frustration for long-term gain."

Woods isn't the only one who's disappointed. With his career in jeopardy, some of his detractors are worried, too. Even if you sort of liked that his downfall gave the other guys a chance, and if you believe in karma, Tiger's demise is unsettling. He's ranked 15th in the world. He doesn't putt well anymore, which he admits is the result of working mostly on his full swing with coach Sean Foley. And now his left leg can't support a swing. On his website Tuesday, Woods said he hoped to return in time for the AT&T National, at Pennsylvania's Aronimink Golf Club, June 30-July 3, but what if he's never Tiger again? What if he retires?

For those of us who never really warmed to Woods, the message of the day is to be careful what you wish for, or against. It's like we hoped for a storm to cancel school, only to get snowed in and begin starving to death. I never wished harm to Woods, but I did want a rival for him. I do regret moralizing about his personal failings in a 2010 issue of Golf Magazine. We're all flawed.

Woods almost singlehandedly built the beat I've worked for 14 years, so Tiger's left knee is now partly my problem, too. It's absolutely PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem's problem. The trouble started when Woods had a benign tumor removed in 1994. He had arthroscopic surgery in 2002, hurt it again while jogging in 2007, and postponed surgery until April 15, 2008, two days after finishing second at the Masters. He won the U.S. Open two months later, in his first start after that operation — after which he had another (reconstructive) operation.

In a manner of speaking no one's seen him since. True, he won six times in 2009 before his secret life was exposed, but for Woods it's about the majors. How will he get to 15, let alone eclipse the record of 18, if he doesn't play?

Jane Park of the LPGA tweeted for us all when she responded to the grim news Tuesday: "oh nooooo Tiger isn't playing the US open. There goes tv ratings."

When he gave up a 54-hole lead for the first time at the 2009 PGA, losing to Y.E. Yang, Tiger may have sensed trouble, but he couldn't have known his life was about to be turned upside down and inside out, scrutinized and satirized. His latest setback seems like the golf gods kicking a guy when he's down.

"At times I see some signs that he's hopefully going in the right direction," Mark O'Meara said at the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship media day Tuesday. "And I care deeply for him. He's had a big impact on my life as a friend. I feel like I've had an impact on his life.

"But a lot has changed over the last three years, there's no question about it," O'Meara continued. "I live in Houston now and he's still in Orlando getting ready to move down to his new place. He seems to say he's doing good. I think he's doing better, but I think it's been a little longer road back than what everybody would have expected."

O'Meara doesn't talk to Woods much anymore, except for a practice round they played together at TPC Sawgrass last month. As always with Tiger, we don't know much. His injured Achilles is rumored to be in worse shape than his injured knee, but that's speculation and it doesn't make much difference, anyway. Many if not most of us don't care if it's his psyche or his body, his knee or his Achilles, that's more broken. We simply would like order to be restored. We'd like Woods to start playing like Woods again, and to stop making Couples look like Carnac.

Toms leads contenders at FedEx St. Jude
With a second place at the Players and a victory at Colonial, David Toms has won more than $2 million in his last two starts on Tour. But he would be on a short list of favorites this week even if he didn't head into the FedEx St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind in the midst of such a career revival at age 44.

Toms finished fourth at the FedEx in 2002, won it in '03 and '04, ran second in '05 and third in '07, and tied for second in '09. So you could say he likes the course. Others in the field include Sergio Garcia, who just made it through U.S. Open sectional qualifying, '09 champion Brian Gay, and Lee Westwood.

The second-ranked Englishman was the first to admit his Memphis victory last year was unexpected and more than a bit odd. He nearly drove away after he signed his card but was persuaded to stick around, and lo and behold got into a three-man playoff thanks to a triple-bogey finish by Robert Garrigus.

Also in the field: Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer's grandson, who is still on a high from making it through his sectional and into his first U.S. Open next week, and Byron Nelson winner Keegan Bradley, whose 70-70 Monday was not enough to advance to Congressional. Garrigus, who bounced back from his Memphis nightmare to nab his first career win at Disney in November, is sure to be a fan favorite. Weather forecast: hot and steamy.

Manassero headlines BMW Italian Open
Another week, another BMW-sponsored tournament on the European Tour. Matteo Manassero, the teen terror who has won twice in the last year, looks to replicate the feat of Francesco Molinari in 2006 and win his national Open. He finished T7 at the BMW PGA Championship two weeks ago.

Francesco Molinari also is in this week's field, as is Costantino Rocca.

Tryon gets exemption into Nationwide event
Why was Ty Tryon, who has only partial status on the Nationwide Tour, given a sponsor's exemption into this week's Rex Hospital Open in Raleigh, N.C.?

He was born at Rex Hospital on June 2, 1984.

And as it turns out, tournament organizers landed a hot player. Tryon, who at age 17 became the youngest player to earn his PGA Tour card through Q-School in 2001, got through sectional U.S. Open qualifying Monday for the second year in a row. The married father of two made the cut at Pebble Beach last summer but shot 78-80 on the weekend to tie for 80th place. This week will mark Tryon's first start on the Nationwide Tour in 2011.

Steve Wheatcroft will be hard to beat in Raleigh even if he retains only some of the form he had in winning last week's Melwood Prince George's County Open. Wheatcroft set several records in his first Tour-sponsored victory, among them lowest 72-hole total (255, breaking the old mark by three) and largest margin of victory (12 shots, breaking the old record by one).

Oldies tour getting older
When 60-year-old Bob Gilder rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt on 18, and Mark Brooks three-putted, it marked the first time in Champions Tour history that 60-and-over players have won in back-to-back weeks. (Tom Watson, 61, won the Senior PGA Championship the week before.)

Morgan will be in the field at this week's Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Barn in Conover, N.C., but other than John Cook the big names will be missing. Mark Calcavecchia, Steve Pate and Bob Tway will seek their first Champions W.

Kerr defends at State Farm
Cristie Kerr looks to become the first player to successfully defend on the LPGA in 2011 at the State Farm Classic in Springfield, Ill.

Also in the field: Paula Creamer, Brittany Lincicome, Jiyai Shin, Yani Tseng, Karrie Webb and Michelle Wie.

Short game
Thomas Levet of France, who qualified for the U.S. Open in a sectional at Walton Heath last week, qualified for the British Open at Sunningdale on Monday. Alex Noren also qualified for the British a day after winning the Saab Wales Open. Among the successful U.S. Open qualifiers to keep an eye on is Russell Hendley, the University of Georgia senior who won on the Nationwide Tour last month. … If he remains atop the Champions Tour points race, Tom Lehman would likely become the first Player of the Year on the Nationwide, PGA and Champions tours. … Bob Gilder's victory last week was his 10th on the Champions, tying him with Al Geiberger, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer on the 50-and-over circuit. … Betsy King, 55, made it through sectional qualifying and will play in the U.S. Women's Open at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo., July 7-10. It will be the 30th U.S. Open start for King, who won the tournament in 1989 and '90. She last played in 2004. Mariel Galdiano, 12, of Pearl City, Hawaii, will be the youngest in the field and the third-youngest ever to play. Alexis Thompson and Morgan Pressel also were 12 when they qualified in 2007 and 2001, respectively.


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