'Vulnerable' Tiger Woods calls off comeback: Is it the end?
Former world number one says he will not return to action until December, prompting speculation he won't play again
Tiger Woods has called off his latest comeback, three days before he was expected to resume his golf career after a 14-month hiatus.
Woods, 40, was scheduled to play at the Safeway Open in California this weekend, his first competition after a series of back injuries has kept him out of action since August 2015.
However, the former world number one, now ranked 786th, has pulled out of both that tournament and the Turkish Airlines Open in November.
He does still plan to play at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas in December, an event organised by his foundation.
"After a lot of soul searching and honest reflection, I know that I am not yet ready to play on the PGA Tour or compete in Turkey. My health is good, and I feel strong, but my game is vulnerable and not where it needs to be," he said.
Woods's decision to delay his long-awaited comeback, which had set the golf world buzzing, has prompted plenty of comment.
"The news was the equivalent of a large nail being driven through an ever-expanding balloon," says James Corrigan of the Daily Telegraph. "Media accreditations had quintupled at the normally low-key event in Napa, California while the organisers were anticipating huge crowds with ticket sales already at record levels. However, with one statement on his official website all of this hype was obliterated."
However, there is a crumb of comfort for fans, says the BBC's Iain Carter.
"It is one thing to be hitting the ball well on a range and quite another to turn that into effective scoring on the most competitive tours in the world," he says. "Decent ball striking comes from fitness and technique, but a scorecard also reflects touch and feel.
"It is, undoubtedly, a big setback for the 14-time major champion but the fact it is form rather than fitness holding him back provides a degree of consolation."
Not so, argues Jason Sobel of ESPN. Woods's latest problems appear to be down to "technical and mental issues" rather than "physical limitations.
He adds: "It would be better the other way around. He'd rather have a physical injury that he can rest, recuperate and recover from than something that has no definitive timeline.
"The player who was once the game's surest thing is now the great unknown."
According to some, this could mean the end for the player. "It's time to acknowledge reality," says Nancy Armour of USA Today. "Tiger Woods might not play another competitive round of golf again."
It is his decision not to play in Turkey next month that is ominous, adds the journalist.
"If his game was close enough that he felt confident in playing a PGA Tournament last week, the fact he now doesn’t think he can be ready in three-and-a-half weeks speaks volumes," she argues. “Woods is a perfectionist, always has been.... If he’s not ready to return now, the 40-year-old might never be."
Tiger Woods out of PGA Championship: Will he ever return?
Tiger Woods has confirmed he will not play this season after withdrawing from the PGA Championship.
The 14-time major winner underwent two back surgeries late last year and has not recovered sufficiently to return to the fairways.
This will be the first year he has missed all four major tournaments since his debut in the Masters in 1995.
His absence is unlikely to make a big difference at the PGA, which tees off at Springfield, New Jersey, next week. Woods has not won a major since the 2008 US Open and last year, he missed the cut in three of them. His last tournament win of any kind came in 2013 and he is currently ranked 628th in the world.
There was little talk of the golfing legend at The Open at Royal Troon last week, as Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson provided the drama, with the victorious Swede breaking Wood's record 19-under-par score.
Woods has had three back operations since March 2014 "and his lack of progress since calls into question whether he will ever play competitively again", says Neil Squires of the Daily Express.
He adds: "Woods is the same age as Open champion Henrik Stenson but his injury issues - which have also included knee and Achilles problems - cast a long cloud over any potential comeback."
There have been occasional sightings of the 40-year-old golfer over the past year but little indication of how fit he is. His involvement in the US Ryder Cup campaign will be as a non-playing vice captain.
"For him to return to competitive golf, Woods - at a minimum - needs to be able to practice and play 18 holes a day for five consecutive days, maybe six. If he can't do that, then tournament golf is impossible," says Bob Harig of ESPN.
Added to that, if and when he makes a comeback, he cannot expect an immediate return to the top of the tree.
"No event is below Woods at this point," says Harig. "When ready, he will need tournament golf, as much of it as he can handle, to find any kind of form. Las Vegas, Davis Love's RSM Classic, and Woods' own Hero World Challenge are all tournaments that would make sense at the end of 2016.
"Unlike others who come back from injury and are granted a grace period, Woods is typically not given that luxury. But realistically, how good do you expect him to be after such a long layoff? It might take him months or longer to get competitive again."