Martin Dempster: Is Tiger Woods about to retire?

A disgruntled Tiger Woods walks off the 18th green at the Old Course in St Andrews last July. Picture: Getty Images
A disgruntled Tiger Woods walks off the 18th green at the Old Course in St Andrews last July. Picture: Getty Images
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HAVING delivered a downbeat assessment of a timescale for his return to competitive golf following three bouts of back surgery in less than two years, serious doubt is now being cast about Tiger Woods’ career.

Ever the optimist in the past, such was the tone of the former world No 1’s press conference on Tuesday ahead of the Hero World Challenge, the 18-man tournament hosted by his foundation and taking place this week in the Bahamas, that it was actually disconcerting to those among the golf media who track Tiger’s every step.

“There is nothing I can look forward to, nothing I can build towards,” he admitted when asked about a timescale for his return.

“Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? I don’t know.”

The 14-times major turns 40 on 30 December, meaning that Father Time is no friend, either.

So here are some questions that it seems appropriate to ask about the future for Woods and the game which he once dominated:

Does this actually mean that Woods’ career is finished?

Not necessarily, and he certainly won’t give up the thought of playing again competitively until it is impossible physically to do so.

There’s no doubt, though, that Woods has finally accepted that his body is in bad shape and simply getting to a stage where he can swing a club again without fear of pain or doing himself more damage can’t even be guaranteed at the moment, never mind re-discovering the “explosiveness” he often talks about.

He’ll probably realise now that he rushed back too soon from the first surgical procedure last year, but hindsight, of course, is a great thing and raw ambition is what has driven Tiger’s career above anything else until this point.

Does Woods, without a major win since 2008, still have as big an impact when he appears at events?

You’d better believe it and here’s a good example. When Tiger made an appearance at the Turkish Airlines Open two years ago, the huge room used for his pre-event press conference was packed to the rafters. Yet, it was barely three-quarters full when Rory McIlroy sat facing the same audience for this year’s event.

Woods’ pre-Open Championship press conferences are legendary for their circus-like nature as correspondents make a mad dash to the interview room to try to secure a seat, even though we all knew that the comments forthcoming were likely to be of the banal variety. Why did we bother then? Simple, Tiger Woods has the ability to make golf writers jump like no-one else.

What would it mean for the likes of Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth if Tiger is indeed finished?

McIlroy, pictured right, probably answered that when he responded to Tiger’s gloomy press conference on Tuesday by taking to social media and writing: “Golf without him doesn’t bear thinking about.”

Helped by their associations with Nike, of course, the pair have developed a strong bond in recent years and it’s a real shame that we’ve not actually had the chance to see McIlroy and Woods slugging it out toe-to-toe down the stretch.

More of a newcomer to the sport’s top table, Spieth is undoubtedly the new darling of the American fans but he, too, will be bitterly disappointed if his career doesn’t include the chance to lock horns with Tiger at some point and even better if that had happened to be in a major.

At the same time, though, McIlroy and Spieth have their own careers to get on with and it’s about real challenges for them, not dwelling on what might have been.

If this is the end for Tiger, where will he rank among the game’s greats?

Up there with the very best. If it wasn’t for his life having fallen apart in the way it did after he was chased out of the family home in Florida by his then wife, Elin Nordegren, brandishing a golf club over extramarital affairs in 2009, there’s surely little doubt that Woods would have overtaken Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors by now instead of being stuck on 14.

The same also goes for the PGA Tour record, with Tiger currently just four victories short of claiming that from Sam Snead.

As an indication of how dominant Woods has been during his era, he has racked up nine more majors than Phil Mickelson and almost double the number of PGA Tour title riumphs with 79.

Can there be a life for Woods in golf after he quits playing?

Almost certainly not, though, having shown a willingness to be appointed early as one of the vice-captains for Davis Love at next year’s Ryder Cup, it seems as though Tiger is gearing himself up to serve as a future American captain in the biennial event.

It would be a shame, of course, if one of the game’s greatest players just disappeared and allowed himself to become detached from the sport, especially one he has so much passion for.

It’s difficult, however, to see Tiger following the likes of Johnny Miller, Nick Faldo or even David Duval into the commentary box on a full-time basis. Having said that, on the few occasions he has let his guard down over the years, he has shown himself to have a dry sense of humour, so perhaps we shouldn’t rule that possible career path out completely.