Tiger Woods’ latest major appearance came to a sudden end on Saturday night when he announced his withdrawal from the PGA Championship.
The 15-time major champion, who made the cut with a shot to spare on Friday, carded a nine-over 79 in cold and windy conditions and decided to call it a day after struggling through the 18 holes on his rebuilt right leg.
Woods was making just his second appearance since suffering career-threatening leg injuries in last February’s car crash, following his return at The Masters, so what does the future now hold for the 46-year-old?
Why would Woods want to struggle?
Woods finished 47th in his comeback appearance at The Masters, carding an opening 71 at Augusta National and made the cut before fading badly over the weekend with consecutive rounds of 78.
The PGA Championship provided a different picture, with Woods battling back from an opening-round 74 to card a one-under 69 in tough conditions on Friday to make the halfway cut with a shot to spare.
Woods then was hampered by cold and windy conditions during his third round at Southern Hills, registering five consecutive bogeys in a major for the first time as a professional and only just managing to avoid carding a score of 80 or worse.
“I’ve played enough golf with Tiger in the generations, and this is just partial Tiger Woods right now, this isn’t the complete Tiger Woods,” former PGA champion Rich Beem told Sky Sports. “I know it’s great having him out there, he still draws the largest fanbase and it’s nice having him, but I just wish we could get him where he’s a little bit healthier and not struggling so much physically.”
Woods admitted prior to his return to action at the PNC Championship last December that a return to full-time golf was no longer an option, although Sky Sports’ Nick Dougherty understands why the 82-time PGA Tour winner wants to keep searching for a return to fitness.
“Many will probably look at it and think, why do it? Why does he need to do it, with what he’s won and achieved already?” Dougherty said. “It looks painful for him and the work that he has to put in, going home for a couple of ice baths tonight doesn’t sound like a great time!
“I don’t think he’s ready to say goodbye to competing for a while yet. I think he’d be lonely in his life in a competitive sense, in a meaningful, purposeful sense if he didn’t have this still. Even though it’s not often, he still looks like he lives to prepare to try and to roll the dice in these events.”
Does Woods need to play more?
Woods has only made 19 official starts since claiming his historic fifth Masters victory at Augusta National in 2019, with former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley believing that tournament practice is the only way he will get back physically ready to compete on a more consistent basis.
“We all know he came back from a very serious injury and nearly lost his leg at one stage, but the other side of it is that he has played so little golf,” McGinley told Golf Channel. “Even if you are Tiger Woods, you need to get rounds under your belt and you need to stay competitively sharp. Even though he’s probably the greatest competitor we’ve ever seen in the game, you still need tournament play.
“He had played one tournament in 17 months before he came to The Masters and hasn’t played since then until he came to Southern Hills. Whether he can do it physically or not is a big question, but if he’s going to compete in these majors then he has got to find a way of somehow playing tournaments in between the major championships.
“You just can’t turn up and expect to compete if you don’t have miles on the clock in terms of competitive rounds. I think he is missing that as much as the physical challenges that he is having.
“When he won in 2019 at The Masters, everyone was talking about it being this great comeback and him coming out of nowhere, but he didn’t. He won the FedExCup a few months earlier, had played really well early in the season and had played six or seven events that year going into The Masters.
“There was a lot of momentum going in and a lot of good play for him going into winning The Masters and that’s what he’s lacking at the moment. That competitive sharpness, that ability to not hit sloppy shots and that ability to turn three shots into two around the greens, which we haven’t seen a lot of.”
Where would Woods likely play next?
Even before Woods’ schedule was hampered by injuries in recent years, the only stop he would traditionally make in June ahead of the US Open would be the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village.
Woods is a five-time winner of the Jack Nicklaus-hosted event, with this year’s contest marking the 10th anniversary of the most recent of those successes, although it would appear unlikely he can recover from his latest setback to feature from June 2-5.
The 46-year-old has already confirmed his registration for the US Open at The Country Club in Brookline on June 16-19, along with six-time major champion Phil Mickelson, but Beem believes it would be sensible to skip the event to prepare for The 150th Open at St Andrews on July 14-17.
“I’m going to be selfish and say, ‘Tiger, please don’t go to the US Open’,” Beem said in commentary for Sky Sports during the PGA Championship. “Please, go home and rehab that leg a little bit longer, because we want to see him over at The Open Championship in full form.
“Say he makes the cut at the US Open, that’s four competitive [rounds] and at least 18, if not 27 holes [practice] in there. Just go to The Open at St Andrews, it is the easiest of walks you’re going to have.”
Woods has already committed to teeing it up as part of a star-studded field in the JP McManus Pro-Am, a 36-hole event at Adare Manor raising money for charities in Ireland from July 4-5, with Woods also previously confirming his intention to play the final men’s major of the year from July 16-19.
“I won’t be playing a full schedule ever again, so it will just be the big events, but I’m looking forward to [The Open] at St Andrews.” Woods told Sky Sports at The Masters. “That is something that’s near and dear to my heart, I’ve won two Opens there, it’s the Home of Golf and it’s my favourite golf course in the world. I will be there for that one.”
Woods has dominated the headlines in the first two majors of the year, simply by being back part of the field after such a long injury-forced shutdown. When, or if, he can return next, the golfing world will once again watch on with interest.
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May 22, 2022, 2:00pm