Somehow, with Tiger Woods, we all want to assume it's not that bad.
When his career basically imploded in November 2009, most of us thought it couldn't possibly be as bad as the initial rumors of his affair.
The fact is, it wasn't. The entire truth ended up being far, far worse.
There is no telling how bad Tiger's current back injury is beyond the fact that it already has caused him to announce his withdrawal from the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, per The Associated Press (via Fox Sports). We don't know yet if it will definitely cause him to miss the Masters in three weeks, or how much it will adversely affect what Woods had hoped was going to be a great 2014 season as spring turns to summer.
Will Tiger Woods return from his latest back injury to win one of golf's four major tournaments this season?
But those such as golf writer Kyle Porter of CBS Sports who suggest this may be some kind of blessing in disguise or "catalyst" to help him get his head straight or his swing right are sadly misguided.
There is no way Woods announces he's missing Bay Hill—one of his favorite events hosted by one of his favorite people at a golf course where he's the two-time defending champion and eight-time winner overall—unless this is mighty serious.
Heck yes, we should read between the lines when he tells the world via his website that "it's too early to know about the Masters." That and Bay Hill are about the only two tournaments he appears to care about most during the spring portion of the PGA Tour schedule.
Backs are tricky things for athletes. So is fate.
Who knew when Tiger was racking up all those majors between 1997 and 2008 that perhaps he was wreaking havoc on his body as well? We all marveled at the power he could generate with his swing. Or how he could use his strength to muscle the ball out of trouble and toward the green no matter where his sometimes errant drives ended up.
Now it is rather obvious, after two knee surgeries and this latest back pain, that all those great shots came at a price to his body.
Woods is no youngster anymore. He's 38 years old.
And while he doesn't play a contact sport, you have to wonder how much of a toll his body truly has paid on the bridge to golf greatness.
We all assumed the back spasms and suddenly chronic pain that caused him to withdraw from the recent Honda Classic and then implode during his final round at the WGC-Cadillac Championship a week later weren't that bad and would subside soon.
Now Tiger is telling us—if we're reading accurately between the lines—that it's much worse. And as he approaches age 40, it begs the question once more: Will we ever see the old Tiger again?
Not for one round or even one tournament, or for a season in which he wins lots of tournaments but none of the ones that matter most to him or the rest of us, but in the sense that he's once again stalking history instead of fading into it.
Few great professional athletes actually have the good sense to go out on top. Why would they? As long as someone is paying to see them play, most of them are going to hang on to the sporting life for as long as humanly possible.
And of course, there is no way Tiger is going to consider giving up the chase for golf immortality that topping Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 career majors would guarantee him—not now, not five years from now, not likely even a decade from now, assuming he isn't still stuck on 14 and has drawn close enough by then to remain in the conversation.
But it's amazing that what seemed so certain just a few years ago, when Woods was rolling up on Nicklaus' record for majors like he was driving a Ferrari, now seems so murky. This is just the latest load of mud to be dumped into Tiger's once-pristine pond.
One way or another, fate is what dictates how long athletes are able to play the sport that made them rich and famous at a high level, or at all.
You think Bo Jackson, perhaps the greatest pure athlete of all time, ever thought he would be retired by the age of 32 from the two major sports where he was declared an All-Star? Yet he was, scarcely a year following hip-replacement surgery that he thought, and many assumed, would at least allow him to salvage his baseball career.
The bottom line is that a back injury that is bad enough for Woods to possibly miss two of his favorite tournaments is, at age 38, a major red flag. It makes us wonder for once if this time, it's actually worse than we think—or perhaps worse than he's maybe willing to admit to himself just yet.
Either way, no one should assume this is a minor bump in Tiger's road to more majors. It could turn out to be a debilitating pothole.
Joe Menzer is liberal with mulligans as he writes about golf, college basketball, NASCAR and other sports for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @OneMenz.