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The Only Thing Certain These Days About Tiger Is Uncertainty

May 23, 2011

It was, as Yogi Berra might say, déjà vu all over again. Tiger Woods, who once left golf tournaments after awards ceremonies, departed the Players for a second straight year after a trip to the fitness trailer.

Last year his neck hurt too much to finish on Sunday. This year his knee and his Achilles tendon were aching so much he couldn't even get through Thursday. Once upon a time, when Tiger felt pain, the entire sport of golf checked into the hospital. Now everyone just lets out a deep sigh and says, "What next?"

And, of course, no one knows. Tiger Woods has become the Britney Spears of golf: a fallen star who isn't so much an enigma or a mystery as a shroud.

In spite of the over-the-top denials from the PGA Tour that it would never ever pressure Woods to play in its massively hyped faux major championship, the fact is Woods was trying to do the right thing by showing up to play when he almost certainly should have been at home with his feet up.

It is worth remembering that PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem did everything but caddie for Woods last year after his fall from grace. He gave up the clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass to Woods for his first public appearance after Hydrantgate, even though Woods and company scheduled it in the middle of a tour event sponsored by Accenture -- which just happened to be one of the companies that had dropped Woods. Then Finchem sat in the room among the employees and minions while Woods read from his script.

In return, Finchem asked Woods to begin committing earlier to tournaments to give them more time to promote his presence. He also asked Woods -- and other big names -- to consider playing in at least one event they didn't normally play in, in order to help struggling sponsors. Woods gave up the early commitment notion -- except for tournaments overseas where he's receiving an appearance fee -- by the end of last year. And he has not, to date, changed his schedule at all.

So if there was ever a time when Woods was going to win one -- or play one -- for the Commish/Gipper, the Players would be it. Woods didn't need a phone call from Finchem to know his presence in Ponte Vedra Beach would be greatly appreciated, especially with top European stars Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy not attending.

There was, of course, speculation that Woods' knee didn't really start to hurt Thursday morning until he triple-bogeyed the short par-4 fourth. There were other Tiger-ologists who thought they saw him take steps two-at-a-time heading from the fitness trailer to his car after he had shot 42 on TPC Sawgrass' front nine.

Let's be fair. Does a healthy or even semi-healthy Tiger Woods shoot 42? He's had four knee surgeries, and a sore Achilles is not something to be messed with. His last comment during his brief stop to talk to reporters was, "Obviously rest would probably help."

No doubt rest would help. But that's almost the only thing about Woods that is clear right now. By noon Thursday half the orthopedic doctors in America had been contacted by media looking for a Tiger prognosis. The reason docs who have never looked at Woods' knee nor talked to him were being cast as experts is because there was no way any of Woods' actual doctors were going to talk to anyone.

Even Mark O'Meara, the player who is the closest thing Woods has to a confidant, and who exchanged text messages with Tiger after the latter withdrew, admitted Woods didn't give him much of a clue about how he was feeling. And so, the speculation continues. Some people blame Sean Foley, Woods' swing coach since last August, for teaching him a swing that puts too much pressure on his bad left knee. Of course, there are also people who blame Foley for the recent hike in gas prices.

Whether or not Woods tees it up next month at the U.S. Open, no one knows, although Woods tweeted May 16, "Bummed that my left leg has me on the sidelines, but I want, and expect, to be at the US Open. Will do all I can to get there."

Whether he ever becomes Tiger Woods again is impossible to know. The only thing we can say for sure is that, like Elvis, he's leaving a lot of buildings right now.

With no cheers echoing in his ears. Only questions.

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