Tiger Woods Postpones Return, Saying He’s ‘Not Ready to Compete’


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Tiger Woods watched the Ryder Cup this month at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn.

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Craig Lassig/European Pressphoto Agency

Three days after Tiger Woods committed to his first PGA Tour event in 14 months, he abruptly withdrew, leaving this week’s Safeway Open with twice as many tickets sold as a year ago but a fraction of the star power.

The Woods wing of fans descending on Napa, Calif., this week will still be able to see the five-time major winner Phil Mickelson, no small consolation prize. But the announcement of Woods’s withdrawal, first reported by Golf Channel on Monday and later confirmed by Woods in a statement posted on his website, came as the interest in his comeback had intensified into a Category 4 hype storm.

It partly manifested in the gambling world: Bettors could wager on whether Woods’s first drive would find the fairway and if he would finish in the top 10. His odds of winning were listed as 40 to 1, better than all but eight players in the field. The two-time major winner Johnny Miller — an owner of the course hosting this week’s event, the PGA Tour’s season opener — described the straightforward layout as ideal for Woods to ease his way back into a “second career” that Miller said would produce another six or eight victories.

A fellow touring pro, Jesper Parnevik, gushed about Woods’s game after playing a nine-hole practice round with him recently, telling Golf Channel, “Comebacks are never a sure thing, but something tells me his might be spectacular.”

All the talk, however well intentioned, intensified the pressure on Woods, whose final three shots in front of the public, from 100 yards out during a media day in May for a tournament that benefits his foundation, all found a water hazard. People may remember his promising finish to the season last year, when he contended before settling for a tie for 10th at the Wyndham Championship in what turned out to be his last competitive event. But it cannot be easy for Woods to forget how he started 2015: with a first-round withdrawal and three scores in the 80s in his first six events.

Since his five-victory season in 2013, Woods has acquired a kind of scar tissue that no amount of vitamin E will ameliorate. The only remedy for Woods is to play and accept that his shots might get worse before his scores get better. For Woods to have committed to a tournament on Friday before changing his mind three days later suggests that his problem is mental, not physical.

Woods, 40, appears to be experiencing performance anxiety, and really, who in his position would not feel a little like the emperor with no game? In the statement on his website, Woods described his game as “vulnerable and not where it needs to be.”

His candid assessment called to mind a line from “I Said Yes to Everything,” the memoir of the Academy Award-winning actress Lee Grant. In it, she wrote, “The problem when you are a star, when the money rests on you as an actor, is that your freedom to fail is gone.”

Woods’s freedom to miss the first fairway or miss the cut is gone. Any other player who had been sidelined from competitive golf for more than 400 days, as Woods has, would not be expected to return and immediately resume his winning ways. Yet before he withdrew, oddsmakers were listing Woods not that far behind the favorites.

Woods also pulled out of next month’s Turkish Airlines Open, which would have been his second event.

“I will continue to work hard and plan to play at my foundation’s event, the Hero World Challenge,” Woods said, referring to the December event that he hosts in the Bahamas.

A winner of 79 tour events, Woods missed all four majors this year for the first time since he turned pro in August 1996. He secured the first of those Tour wins 20 years ago last week. Since his successful 2013 season, Woods has had three surgical procedures and 18 tour starts. He is four major victories from equaling Jack Nicklaus’s record and three tour victories from equaling Sam Snead’s career mark.

Snead and, more recently, Mickelson, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Steve Stricker summoned some of their best golf in their 40s. There is no reason to believe Woods cannot win again. But to succeed — or even start — this second career, as Miller called it, Woods is going to have to forget the golfer he was in his prime, the one whose goal in every event he entered was to win.

“After a lot of hours,” Woods said in his statement, “I knew I wasn’t ready to compete against the best golfers in the world.”

If he compares his shots now with his shots then, Woods is never going to feel ready. That does not mean he cannot compete. He should not let the hype machine chase him into retirement just because he has a new normal. As he resets his timetable, Woods should adopt this swing thought: Perfect is the enemy of good.

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