TULSA, Okla. — Tiger Woods’s body just couldn’t take four straight rounds of championship golf this week at Southern Hills.
Woods, playing in just his second tournament since suffering a traumatic leg injury 15 months ago, withdrew from the PGA Championship late Saturday after shooting a 9-over-par 79 in the third round. He sat at 12 over for the tournament, tied for last place among the 79 golfers who made the cut. Had Woods remained in the field for Sunday, he would have played in the second group of the day.
Woods didn’t take questions from reporters, and quietly left town without addressing his status or his future. He did answer a few quick questions in a pool report following his round, and acknowledged that he wasn’t sure about playing in Sunday’s final round.
“I’m sore. I know that is for a fact,” he said. “We’ll do some work and see how it goes.”
Let’s be honest — pride probably played a factor, too. Tiger Woods playing first thing on a Sunday morning? Limping around the course just trying to break 80? Uh, no.
The pride factor, as much as the injury factor, could keep Woods from coming to next month’s US Open at The Country Club in Brookline.
In fact, the first golf major in the Boston area since 1988 may be played without two of the sport’s biggest stars. Phil Mickelson hasn’t played an event in three months, and skipped both majors this year, following controversial comments he made about the Saudi royal family and the PGA Tour. And now Woods, 46, is struggling just to make it through a round.
Officials from The Country Club and the United States Golf Association have been cautiously optimistic that Woods will play in Brookline. He submitted his entry to play, and his 47th-place finish at the Masters provided hope that Woods could make it to all four majors this year.
But Woods is clearly a shell of himself physically. While Woods has publicly stated how important it is for him to play in July’s British Open at the Old Course at St. Andrew’s, he has made no such proclamations about Brookline.
Woods gave it his best go this week at Southern Hills, and took advantage of some easy conditions on Friday afternoon to squeak under the cut line. But he was noticeably struggling on a course that wasn’t physically taxing on too many other golfers.
Tuesday at the driving range, Woods commented to his caddy on how badly he was hurting. During play, he used his driver as a crutch when walking down tee boxes. He winced in pain on Thursday after hitting a tee shot on No. 8.
It’s not just from the near-fatal car accident he was in last February that almost required amputation of his leg. It’s from a career of pain: Knee injuries. Back injuries. Addiction. He called himself “Humpty Dumpty” this week.
Tiger hasn’t been put quite back together yet.
Saturday, it took a miraculous finish — 1 under over the last five holes — for Woods to avoid an embarrassing 80, a number he has cracked just twice in 308 previous rounds at a major as a professional (2002 British Open, 2015 US Open). Woods had one stretch of five consecutive bogeys. On No. 6, he hit into a creek and carded a triple.
“I couldn’t get off the bogey train there,” Woods said. “I just didn’t — I didn’t do anything right.”
Woods made his decision to withdraw about five hours after finishing his round. It marked the first time he withdrew from a major since the 1995 US Open, when he was an amateur. He also withdrew from the Northern Trust in 2018.
Physically, he’s got nothing right now.
“You feel so sorry for him having to go through this,” said Saturday’s playing partner, Shaun Norris, who shot a 74. “You can see he was battling today just to get the ball out of the hole from time to time, even to bend out to put the ball on the tee. It’s not easy to see a guy like him have to go through that and struggle like that.”
Woods is still the biggest draw in golf, as evidenced by the massive galleries following him around Southern Hills. And he still can produce some of that old Tiger Magic. Saturday, he ended his nightmare stretch of bogeys by sinking a 37-foot putt for birdie, earning a signature roar from the crowd and drawing a sheepish smile from Woods.
But the old Woods is gone and, it seems, never coming back. He’s a nostalgia act now. An attraction. Something to check off the list. “Now I can say I’ve seen Tiger.”
He’s playing the majors because it brings him back to a happier time, when he was the world’s most dominant athlete and changed the game of golf forever.
Those days, sadly, are gone.
Woods even admits that the game he helped revolutionized may have passed him by. The rough at Southern Hills has been punishing, and Woods often used an iron off the tee to avoid the rough at all costs — “playing to my spots,” as he put it.
But he was unique in that approach. Today’s young golfers grip it and rip it.
“The game is played very differently now, and it’s very aggressive,” Woods said this week. “The days of the Lee Janzens and the Scott Simpsons and the (Nick) Faldos of the world, playing that kind of golf is gone. You go out there and hit driver a lot, and if you have a hot week, you have a hot week and you’re up there. The game is just different.”
The US Open will be a lot different, too, if Woods can’t make it.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.