Tiger Woods: If Tiger Never Regains His Form, Will He Walk Away from Golf?

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst IMay 19, 2011

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL - MAY 12:  Tiger Woods looks on from the fifth hole during the first round of THE PLAYERS Championship held at THE PLAYERS Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass on May 12, 2011 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The U.S. Open is a month away, and as great as the Masters is, I still believe that our national open is the most prestigious event in the sport.

The rough is absurdly thick, the greens are as fast as the playing surface of a hockey rink, the fairways are barely wide enough for a threesome to walk down. It's the truest, toughest test of golf in the world.

So there is no better, or more fitting, place for Tiger Woods to snap his slump than next month when the Open returns to Congressional CC.

And a win at the Maryland course would do a great deal more than simply snap his long drought without a major (three years) or a Tour win (almost two years).

If he does rebound from the swing changes, the injuries, and the personal life struggles to win at Congressional, he will tie Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones, and Willie Anderson as the only men to claim four US Open crowns.

Even if he doesn't win a major this year or the next, I think Tiger will still recover and win multiple majors. No athlete has more drive or more dedication and since he's only 35 (which is still young for a game that has featured many major championship winners in their late 40s) he will have plenty of opportunities.

He'll never again contend for a Tiger Slam or win 10 tournaments a season, but he can still be a dominant player on the Tour.

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For me, it's not about his mindset or his swing changes or his putting problems, the only thing stopping him from returning to No. 1 in the world status is his lower body health, specifically those frequently bothersome and operated-on knees.

As hard as it is for me to believe, if his ailments continue to hamper his game, I could see Woods walking away from the Tour long before he and the public are ready.

And I'm not talking about Woods reaching a point where it's too painful for him to play or too hard for him to stand up and walk 18—although if Ben Hogan could come back after nearly dying in a car accident in the 1950s, I'd be surprised if Woods' knee ever kept him from being able to play tournament golf.

No, I mean if it gets to the point that Woods' knee keeps him from playing golf like Tiger Woods, or at least the Tiger Woods we all remember.

I just can't see Woods appearing in the Masters or the Memorial or the PGA Championship when he knows he cannot compete for the top prize. And make no mistake about it, a player like Tiger Woods knows if he isn't capable of competing.

Sure Woods has other interests: charities, golf course design, promoting the sport abroad.

But I just think—rightfully so—he's too proud to go out there and play average golf.

The competitive fire in him might say "I'm always in contention...because I'm Tiger Woods" and there have been plenty of stunning comebacks in major championships where a player's career was considered dead and buried; Jack Nicklaus' 1986 Masters for example.

But that same competitive fire will also make him think twice about "ruining his legacy." For a decade Woods was the greatest player in the world, probably better than Nicklaus in the 1970s, Palmer in the 1960s, Hogan in the 1950s, or Jones in the 1920s.

Right now, Woods has won 14 of the 55 majors he's played. If he goes out and plays the next 40 majors (i.e. 10 years) and doesn't win again, that incredible mark of 25 percent goes way down.

More to the point, I'd be surprised to see Woods continually go out there and let the rest of the field "beat" him. I think his ego and pride are too great to see Ian Poulter or Rory Sabbatini or Luke Donald finish higher and "get the best of him" week in and week out.

It's wayyyyyy too early to say Tiger Woods' career is over. And, again, I still think he'll rebound, win half a dozen majors and surge past Jack Nicklaus.

But—whether it's next year, five years from now, or 25 years from now—the moment Tiger knows he isn't capable of winning on Tour, I expect him to walk away.

And that includes the Champions Tour—can anyone really see Tiger, in his trademark red, fist-pumping after he nails a putt to close out the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf? I don't.