It’s been a while since we’ve seen Tiger Woods play to the best of his abilities. Excluding one magnificent week at the Masters this year, he hasn’t been at his best since that memorable 2008 U.S. Open he won at Torrey Pines on a bum leg.
If you haven’t turned on ESPN in a while you may not have noticed, but Woods hasn’t played since he withdrew after nine holes of the Players Championship last month, hampered by injuries. Woods has cited nearly every joint in both legs as a reason why he can’t play. Between tournament app- earances, he’s usually on crutches and in a walking boot. During appearances, he plays more like an Eldrick than a Tiger Woods.
Woods has finally realized that rushing rehab to participate in a tournament rarely produces a positive result. This month he skipped the Memorial, a tournament he’s won four times in the past, and the U.S. Open, in which he is a three-time champion. This week he sits out the event he personally hosts, the AT&T National.
There have been bright moments in his absence, but it’s not the same. Still, the game of golf is surviving without Woods at his best.
We’ve had the chance to see young stars rise, uninhibited by his dominating presence. We watched a gap-toothed South African named Louis Oosthuizen win the 2010 Open Championship as the world media scrambled to figure out how to pronounce his last name.
At Congressional Country Club this month, we watched mop-topped 22-year-old Rory McIlroy run away with a U.S. Open title, smashing scoring records as he went wire-to-wire in an amazing show of skill. But for that special week in April, we were reminded of the power of Woods as he roared around Augusta National trying to earn his fifth Masters title. Trailing by seven shots entering the final round, Woods – wearing his familiar red shirt that was for so long symbolic of dominance – quickly closed the gap and, for a few hours, it was like 1997 again with golf’s greatest hero.
I was sitting in the press box of the USF Baseball Stadium that afternoon, watching as the Bulls beat Rutgers 7-3. Yet even in a room full of people tasked with watching the baseball game, everyone had an eye on what Woods was doing. As players walked toward the Athletics building following the game, they asked if Woods had really come all the way back to take a share of the lead.
Moments like that are the reason why Woods should take his time getting healthy. Golf fans deserve to see a healthy Woods compete the way he did when he took the sport by storm a decade ago. Whether that means sitting out the rest of this season or even longer, the sport will be better off if he rests.