Last week, Tiger Woods posted an entry on his personal website updating his health status. As usual, it's not great.
Woods recently underwent his fourth back surgery. This time his spine was fused. He said he's pain-free. He's said that repeatedly since his back went rogue on him three years ago. It's never turned out to be true.
Amidst a number of blandishments about the important things in life (his cronies, his business ventures, his kids), Woods finally got around to the real point of writing: "I want to say unequivocally, I want to play professional golf again."
Woods is long past "will" play golf again. These days, he's reduced to wanting it. He sounds less convincing each time he says it.
Early Monday morning, Woods took another hard fall on his Sisyphean redemption tour. He was arrested on a DUI charge in Florida, apparently after leaving one of his own upscale restaurants in the wee hours. He was booked, photographed and released.
There are two types of celebrity mugshots: the sort that launch your career (e.g., Frank Sinatra) and the sort that end it (e.g., Nick Nolte). This was the second kind.
If you've grown up with Woods and still remember him as an ebullient teen, it's hard to look at that picture. He's 41 now and looks 10 years older. His face is puffy; his hair patchy; his expression dull.
The overwhelming effect is weariness and defeat. Woods released a statement of apology Monday evening. He explained that he hadn't been drinking, but had an "unexpected reaction to prescribed medications." It hardly matters in public-relations terms. That picture cannot be undone. Five years ago, you'd have said that if someone went looking for a representative image of Woods, it'd be one of a half-dozen fist pumps. Maybe the one after the impossible chip that won at Augusta in 2005. Now it's this.
Five years ago, Woods had hoped to become the next Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus. Now, he is turning into the next John Daly. He's been a punchline and a has-been, but this is new – Woods as cautionary tale.
A couple of years ago, I went to find Daly at the Masters. Every April, he parks his RV alongside a Hooters on the main drag and receives visitors.
In the morning, Daly hawks his own merch (the cost of an interview was a bootleg Masters pin flag – the fact it was autographed still didn't make it worth 50 bucks). In the afternoon, he mini-putts for a mob of yokels. At night, you wouldn't like to guess.
All you could think as you watched Daly putter around unsteadily, engaging in excruciating chitchat with the plebes, was: "Why are you here?"
The man won two majors. He made tens of millions of dollars (and, in fairness, squandered most of it). At the time, very like Woods, he was also telling people he'd return from a pernicious injury.
When we talked, he looked over in the direction of Augusta National – only one endless parking lot away – and said, "I'd love to be back in there."
It was very close to pathetic. You could almost find yourself feeling sorry for an aging boozer who'd had it all, frittered it away and had now roped thousands of people into his personal delusion that it could be got back again.
It'd have been easier to feel for him if Daly was a failed plumber instead of a rock star with regrets. He had his time. I'm certain he enjoyed it. That's more than most people get.
One of life's great skills is knowing when to give in, which is not the same thing as giving up. The latter is a failure of ambition. The former is the victory of prudence.
Woods is in Daly's grey territory now – hanging on with no good reason to do so. Daly still plays. He won a seniors event a couple of weeks ago. The victory was not a return to glory. Instead, it was greeted with general bemusement – "That guy's still alive?"
Afterward, Daly thanked Donald Trump for "doing such a great job for our country." It's as if God has given up on running the universe and has settled into His new gig writing a planetary sitcom.
Is this what Woods hopes to become? A Daly-esque figure of fun? He's headed in that direction.
Part of the problem is the economics of modern golf. In 2016, Woods did not play in a single tour event. According to Forbes, he still made $45-million (U.S.), almost all of it through endorsements.
When a hockey player or tennis pro passes his best before date, he's done as a professional. He might go into coaching or broadcasting. He could still get a few crumbs from a shoe company or hit the speaking circuit. But now that he can't play, he has to find something else to do. He's forced to move on.
Only in golf can someone continue to make massive amounts of money from the sport when they no longer participate in it at the highest level. Even though they are now an endorser as opposed to an athlete, a former elite golfer can continue to cash cheques as long as he never admits it's over. It's the limbo of working life. This is one reason Palmer was out there wobbling over a professional tee into his 60s.
Palmer's excuse was that at least it seemed as if he was enjoying himself. Do you think Woods has enjoyed golf recently? Given the events of Monday, do you imagine everything's on track with his rehab? Does anybody aside from him really think this is all going to end with Woods transforming himself from a semi-invalid to the best player in the world again?
Some people (who were once legion, but whose numbers dwindle with each passing year) cite Woods's legacy as a rationale. They believe he still has a shot at Nicklaus's record 18 major titles. Woods has desperately glommed on to that narrative.
At this point, if legacy really is his primary concern, it may best be served by finding something else to do for a living and trying to be great at that. Better to remember him as the magnificent athlete he was than the ersatz one he is becoming.