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The future of Tiger Woods

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Will Tiger Woods ever be the same?

For years he dominated golf in such a way that most players figured they were continually playing for second place. Now after Thursday’s development at the Players Championship in Pontre Vedra Beach, Fla., the question becomes even louder: Will the new Tiger Woods ever become the old Tiger Woods again?

Woods, after shooting a six-over-par 42 on the front nine of his opening round, withdrew from the tournament because of a lingering knee injury that has become such an issue since his dramatic win in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines that questions of his return to the top can’t be brushed aside.
Woods told reporters after he made the decision, “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 has not won a major championship since the Open at Torrey Pines in 2008 and has not won a tour event since September 2009. He has played in five PGA Tour events this year, but not since finishing tied for fourth at the Masters.

Woods didn’t indicate Thursday when he might play again, saying he’d have to confer with his doctors, but this development certainly doesn’t bode well for his chances to play at the second major of the year, the U.S. Open at Congressional just outside Washington, D.C., June 16-19. That’s a course –- compounded by always-challenging Open conditions -- that will not be kind to any player who hasn’t gotten his game in shape beforehand.

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Woods has always defined his career by major championships won, and it seemed a given a few years ago that he would break –- perhaps shatter -– Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors. Other players on tour, whether they acknowledged it or not, felt his presence in any field, particularly when he was near the leaderboard. But he’s been stuck on 14 majors now for almost three years, and any intimidation factor seems to be lost on other tour players now, particularly some of the young long-hitters who are making noise these days. And those are players hitting the ball substantially farther than Woods, who used to bomb the ball with anyone.

Tiger Woods may not be finished as a contender for the No. 1 golfer in the world; he may very well come back. But the deterioration in his knee and accompanying physical problems, compounded by his extended layoff from the complications he created in his personal life, may very well mean that a defining era is over.

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-- Mike James




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