Anyone who purchased tickets for the US Open at Erin Hills here in Wisconsin thinking that they would get to see Tiger Woods' triumphant return to major golf are in for some major disappointment. Through social media on Thursday, Tiger announced that he has undergone a fourth "successful" back surgery--and will not play for the rest of this golf season. Given that Woods has undergone three previous "successful" back surgeries--none of which allowed him to play golf without debilitating pain--you have to wonder what the definition of "successful" really is. It must mean it didn't leave him paralyzed from the waist down.
The announcement of the surgery came just two days after Tiger appeared at a press event in Missouri for a new public golf course that he is designing. He hit a couple of balls (poorly) and then told the media that he was "progressing well" and "expected to return to golf soon". Less than 48-hours later, he's had another surgery and is done for the year.
Or is it time to say that he is done for good? Each surgery and procedure that Tiger undergoes is more invasive than the one before. A doctor on Golf Channel last night talked about how surgeons would have had to move around a few internal organs to reach the part of the spine that was operated on this time. What's more, it involved some spinal fusion--which all but guarantees some loss of motion and flexibility in the back.
The talking heads all agreed that if Woods is not able to come back at a physical level where he can win--not just make cuts and get a few top ten finishes, he wasn't coming back at all. Tiger had just one stated career goal: to break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major victories in a career. When he reached 14 nine years ago by winning the US Open on a broken leg, it seemed to many to be a foregone conclusion. But then came the incident with his wife and a series of career-threatening injuries that have all but snuffed out the likelihood of Woods even winning one more major--much less four or five.
And what this also means is that Tiger--and his fans--won't have those final moments of glory that only golf can provide. There will be no shocking Masters win at the age of 46 like Nicklaus scored in 1986. There will be no final walks up 18 at Augusta National, no posing on the Swilcan Bridge at Saint Andrews in a final British Open. There won't even be appearances on the Champions Tour at Steve Stricker's event. Tiger's career will have come to an end more like a fiery car crash than a slow ride into the sunset.
Of course, Tiger won't be the first athlete to go out that way. Gayle Sayers, Sandy Koufax and Bobby Orr all saw transcendent careers cut short at relatively young ages by injury--leaving fans to always wonder "What if...." Those three would also tell you that it was incredibly difficult to reach that decision to quit--something I think Tiger Woods is finding out right now.