Not much doubt remained that Jack Nicklaus would retain his record for victories in major golf tournaments.
But any lingering thoughts of Tiger Woods possibly supplanting him were snuffed for good last week.
What once seemed inevitable has transitioned to impossible.
Stuck at 14 major victories since capturing the 2008 U.S. Open, Woods will not win five more majors. Woods will not win four more majors to tie Nicklaus’ mark (18).
He would do well to win another tournament, period, something he last accomplished at the 2013 Bridgestone Invitational. He has teed off in 23 PGA tournaments since then and missed the cut in seven of them.
With his 40th birthday arriving in December, Woods will miss reaching the first tee for several months. He announced Friday that he had back surgery on Sept. 16, breaking the news on his website, sounding like the same ol Tiger, vowing to defy age, injury and the Tour’s pride of young lions.
“This is certainly disappointing, but I’m a fighter,” he said on tigerwoods.com. “I’ve been told I can make a full recovery and I have no doubt that I will.”
He’ll come back because he’s a compulsive competitor who has been obsessed with overtaking Nicklaus forever. But the landscape and his body are headed in opposite directions.
One is fresh and full of potential. The other is worn and weary. Unless Woods finds a way to make the clock spin backward like a perfect approach shot, the competitive portion of his career will be relegated to the annals of time.
We’ve been headed in this direction from the moment Woods crashed into a fire hydrant in the wee hours after Thanksgiving 2009. Little did we know that was the beginning of the end, the smashed Escalade serving as a metaphor for Tiger’s personal life and career.
Outed as a serial adulterer, Woods might have survived the turmoil of his broken marriage and fractured public image. But golf’s physical toil began catching up with him.
He cited a bulging disk and sore neck in withdrawing from the final round of the 2010 Players Championship. He injured his left Achilles tendon and sprained the MCL in his left knee a year later, causing him to miss two months (including two majors).
Between 2013 and 2014, Woods suffered a left elbow strain, a stiff neck and aching back. He withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational last year and two weeks later underwent microdiscetomy surgery to repair a pinched nerve. That’s the same procedure he had last week, for the same area.
“With the upcoming offseason, the decision was made to remove a small disc fragment that was pinching his nerve,” said Dr. Charles Rich, who also performed the initial surgery. “The microsurgery was a complete success.”
We will need a new gauge to measure success for Woods when he returns, because the old scale is irreparably broken. We recalibrated our expectations over the last few years as he battled injuries and completed a total swing reconstruction (for the third time in his career), and we will have to do so again.
It’s not just age and injury, though. The emergence of unintimidated young guns such as Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler have helped turn the page from what was to what is.
The saddest thing about all of this? Woods arguably was becoming a better man as he became a worse golfer.
It’s unfortunate that he was so robotic and distant when he was at the top, unable to enjoy his reign with normal feeling and emotions. He was smug and terrible at the human touch, displaying more disdain than delight at his station in life.
But what a golfer. If he couldn’t reach such heights without being an insufferable jerk, I’d take greatness every time.
He won’t catch Nicklaus but consider this: When Day won the BMW Championship Sunday, he joined Woods and Vijay Singh as the only golfers to win five or more times on the PGA Tour in the last 20 years. Singh did it in 2004.
Woods did it 10 times.
He was playing some of his best golf in recent memory lately, tied for the 36-hole lead and still in contention with eight holes left last month in the Wyndham Championship before fading to 10th place. He had missed the cut in three of his five events prior to that tournament.
There will be plenty of retrospectives when Woods finally puts away his clubs.
But no matter how long he continues to play until then, news of a second back surgery feels like the end.