As Tiger Woods turns 40, his future as a player remains very unclear

By Dan O'Neill
Published on
As Tiger Woods turns 40, his future as a player remains very unclear

ST. LOUIS – Tiger Woods turns 40 on Dec. 30. If that doesn't make you feel old, it probably makes you wonder about his future as a player.
In late October, Woods underwent a procedure on his back, a follow-up to the surgery he had on Sept. 16. The September surgery was the second on his back in a year-and-a-half, and came after a series of uncharacteristic performances in 2015.
Woods made 11 starts last season, had four missed cuts, one withdrawal, three rounds in the 80s and a 71.988 scoring average. The average PGA Tour score was 71.466.
Woods held the No. 1 spot in the world rankings for a record 683 weeks. He now sits at No. 416.
It is going on eight years since Woods won his 14th and most recent major championship. The fact he had five wins and PGA Tour Player of the Year honors as recently as 2013 suggests he is still capable. The fact he has undergone three procedures since to address disc issues in his back douses that flame.
That Woods might again approach the level that saw him dominate the game for two decades is difficult for anyone to imagine. But it's becoming even more relevant to wonder about Woods playing at all, at least without making dramatic changes in the way he swings the club.
Kobe Bryant has announced he is hanging it up after this NBA season. His body won't let him continue. Is Woods far behind?
These sobering thoughts are not just pondered by golf fans, they're considered by Woods himself, which is especially profound. Woods has never been one to acknowledge frailty or accept limitations. But in an interview with Time magazine, and in comments recently at the Hero World Challenge, the resignation was thick. He no longer defines a return in terms of "when," but in terms of "if."
"One, I don't want to have another procedure," Woods told Time. "And two, even if I don't come back and I don't play again, I still want to have a quality of life with my kids. I started to lose that with the other surgeries."
When Davis Love III recently named Woods as one of his vice captains for the 2016 Ryder Cup, it had the same conceding ring to it. More than a few people were surprised by that announcement. 
"I don't know what to think about that, I really don't," Rory McIlroy told The Belfast Telegraph. "It's great that he wants to help the U.S. team in any way that he can, and if that's not in a playing capacity, then as a vice captain.
"Just sort of makes me think what really his health is like and how he feels like he's going to come back from that."
Woods insisted he still had hopes of making the team as a player, but the timing of the announcement seemed pre-emptive. If nothing else, it meant Love wouldn't have to deal with critics demanding he add a compromised Woods with a captain's pick.
Woods was the host of the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, not a participant. He made clear there is no timetable for his return to competition. He used to talk about the goal of playing in the Olympics. That subject never comes up anymore.
It's crazy to think of Tiger Woods in a ceremonial or ambassadorship role. But as he reaches 40, as you consider what his body has gone through, as you digest his comments, you have to consider that day might be here.
This article was written by Dan O'Neill from St. Louis Post-Dispatch and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.