Celizic: “Injury” was Just an Excuse for Tiger to Quit

And now there’s yet another new experience Tiger Woods has to deal with. And it’s the last thing we ever thought we’d see from the man who used to be the greatest golfer most of us had ever seen.

He quit Sunday in the final round of the Players Championship. Picked his ball up on the seventh hole, said his neck hurts, and didn’t even walk off the course. He climbed in a golf cart and rode off into the metaphorical sunset. Except that little kid running behind him wasn’t yelling, “Come back, Shane!” He was yelling, “"Tiger, say so long to No. 1! Kiss it goodbye!"

OK, the kid said that Saturday, after Tiger limped in about 10 strokes off the lead. But it’s the thought that counts, and the thought was that Tiger’s had it.

I raised that possibility 10 days ago after Tiger shot 74 in the first round at Quail Hollow. The next day, he played 18 holes, but he quit on the course. He stopped trying to win, stopped caring where he finished and just whacked at his ball, his only interest being how soon he could get it done with and limp on back home to feel sorry for himself.

Quitting is not acceptable in sports or in life. Jack Nicklaus didn’t quit. John Daly did it all the time. What’s next for Tiger, a cigarette, a beer and a pot gut?

I know he said he’s injured, and I won’t argue with him if he wants to say he has a sore neck that may be a bulging disk. He probably is injured. He’s abused his body for years, not by boozing and partying but by working it too hard. All that running and weight lifting and practicing is catching up with him. The knees have already started to disintegrate and now the back is apparently protesting.

But let’s be honest about this. If Tiger was anywhere near the lead and playing like he used to, there’s no way he walks off the course. This is the guy who won the U.S. Open on a broken leg and wrecked knee. Playing through pain is not a problem, not if there’s a trophy waiting at the end of the round.

The pain just got to be a problem when he tried his hardest and couldn’t make his game stop sucking. That’s when his neck stopped being an injury and started being an excuse. It used to be there was nowhere else he wanted to be more than on a golf course. Now, he can’t get away from the course fast enough.

After the third round on Saturday, when Phil Mickelson shot 66 and charged into contention and Tiger did nothing, Woods told NBC Sports, “I was really close to putting it together.”

Less than 24 hours later, he quit in the middle of a round. He was two over par on the day and going nowhere except to the absolute bottom of the pack.

I wouldn’t want to be Tiger Woods right now. I don’t care how much money he has, it’s got to be misery. His life is a toxic waste dump, his golf game is a mess, he’s got no sponsors other than Nike, helicopters hover over his house waiting to collect more salacious tidbits about his sex life to sell to the tabloids and he’s facing a divorce that’s going to trim hundreds of millions of dollars off his net worth.

And, oh, yeah, his neck hurts.

I’m not sure we’ve ever seen anybody crash and burn quite as spectacularly as Tiger has. This isn’t just one aspect of his life that fell apart. It’s everything — physical, mental, emotional — all going kaflooey together. All it lacks is a felony charge to qualify as a total disaster.

No one, including Tiger, knows where this goes next. He may decide it’s a good idea to have surgery on the neck to avoid having to embarrass himself again on the golf course. Or he may convince himself his game is right there and everything will be better the next time out.

He could come back. Ben Hogan did it after nearly being killed in a car crash. Or he could become a caricature of himself, the new John Daly, rich in talent, low in self-esteem and results.

More likely, he manages to spackle something resembling his old game together and wins a couple of tournaments a year as he tries desperately to get the five majors he needs to pass Nicklaus.

But it’s not likely he’ll ever dominate again. The rest of the Tour respects his accomplishments and talent but doesn’t fear him anymore. Phil Mickelson is the best golfer on the planet now. A lot of kids who look at Tiger as an old fart who used to be great are taking their shots at the top.

Tiger may come back, but it’s not his Tour to own anymore. Not after he took up quitting on rounds and tournaments.

Bobby Jones once quit during a British Open. Jones came back from that ignominy to become the greatest golfer ever. But when Jones quit during the third round of the 1921 British Open, he was 19 years old, a young hothead who had a lot to learn about the game and about self control.

Within two years, Jones would be the greatest golfer ever and an exemplar of sportsmanship.

Tiger isn’t 19. He is a hothead, but it’s an aging hothead. There’s too much going on in his life, and all of it is bad.

And now he’s a quitter.

Lo, how the mighty have fallen.

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