It's the poor performances in the biggest tournaments. It's the swing changes and instructor switches. And mostly, it's the recurring injuries.
It's the end for Tiger Woods.
No, it's not the end of his career. The man is only 39 years old, after all, and the money is too good to quit despite the results. But his superstar days—well, those are most certainly behind him.
That Woods withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open is only a part of this equation. Remember, the week before he missed the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, shooting an 82 in Round 2. That was his worst round as a professional and dropped him out of the top 50 in the world rankings.
He's now No. 62 in the rankings—the lowest he's ever been since he started his career in 1996.
His descent has been pretty dramatic. Consider this graph from Golf Digest:
Or this tweet from Jason Sobel of Golf Channel:
Perhaps the most telling sign of Woods' demise is all of the theories as to what is behind his fall from grace. Hey, he's just getting too old. He's overthinking things. He's lost his swagger, his confidence. He's tinkering too much with his swing. He's just injury prone.
Former player and broadcaster Ian Baker-Finch claimed Woods' woes stemmed from "fear" on SEN radio.
“At the first tee at Augusta every year he’s so nervous he hits it 100 yards off line, and he’s just hit 50 perfect drives on the range,” explained Baker-Finch. “You can’t tell me that that’s a bad back, or a swing flaw, it’s totally mental—it’s a fear.”
But that's the problem: We can't put our finger precisely on what is holding Woods back. That's part of what continues to make Woods so compelling. Not only has he declined from arguably the most dominant athlete in any sport to a middling player, but nobody knows exactly why any of this is happening.
And yes, this is about more than just glutes that won't activate.
“It’s just my glutes are shutting off,” Woods told The Associated Press after withdrawing from the Farmers Insurance Open, per CBS Las Vegas. “Then they don’t activate and then, hence, it goes into my lower back. So I tried to activate my glutes as best I could in between, but they never stayed activated.”
Maybe it is his glutes, or his back, or his swing changes, or a lack of confidence, or the fact that he's nearly 40 and no longer the athlete he was during his prime.
Maybe it's all of those things. Maybe it's none of them. Whatever the cause, the conclusion isn't hard to see: Woods is no longer elite. He's no longer a superstar. His earning potential derives from our curiosity with his declining game and the mystery that surrounds it, not from his actual ability to ever return to the top of the golfing world.
Because that seems increasingly unlikely.