Golf legends wonder whether Tiger Woods will return from injury, win again

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Some of golf's legend weighed in this week during the Father/Son Challenge on Tiger Woods' chances of returning to the height of his game.
By
Edgar Thompson
The Orlando Sentinel

Series: PGA

Published: Sunday, December 13, 2015 | 2:48 a.m.

Orlando, Fla. -- Raymond Floyd won the U.S. Open when he was 43, finished runner-up at the Masters at 49 and played in the Ryder Cup as a 51-year-old.

Longevity is a hallmark of Floyd's Hall of Fame career. Same goes for many of the 20 professionals playing at this weekend's PNC Father/Son Challenge.

Yet, Tiger Woods -- the most dominant player the game maybe has ever seen -- turns 40 on Dec. 30 and is at a career-threatening crossroads.

Following three back surgeries in the span of 20 months, Woods has a long road ahead to return to the winner's circle, muchless capture a major championship.

"I would hope he would come back and still be a top player," Floyd said. "But with all the surgeries and everything he's been through, it would make it very difficult.

"Attrition takes its toll in every arena. He led the game for 20 years. It's sad he's had so many injuries."

Many of the pros in the Father/Son field have managed the physical demands of the game and thrived well into their 40s, 50s, even beyond.

Floyd is among six players in the field to win a major championship at 40 or older. One of them, Vijay Singh, a PGA Championship winner in 2004 at 41, leads the Father/Son after Day 1 after he and his son, Quass, combined for a 13-under 59 and a two-shot lead over Steve and Sam Elkington, Lanny and Tucker Wadkins and Davis and Dru Love -- the 2012 winners. The first wave in the final round tees off at 8:40 a.m. today at the Ritz-Carlton and tickets start at $15. The golf legends are all eager to walk away with another win.

"All these guys can still play," 59-year-old Fred Funk said. "It's just a matter of focus, how much they want to practice."

One of the hardest-working players the game has seen, Woods can do little but takes walks these days.

Woods' injury history is well documented, dating to his 2008 U.S. Open win with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. The back surgeries have left the 79-time Tour winner resigned he may never win again.

"Pretty much everything beyond this will be gravy," Woods recently said of his career. "If that's all it entails, then I've had a pretty good run. But I'm hoping it's not it."

Some of the game's giants expect Woods to find his game and win again, including the one man he has been chasing for three decades.

"You don't write him off until he doesn't do it," Jack Nicklaus said. " I still think he'll play very well."

Nicklaus' record 18 majors, including three at 40 or older, once seemed certain to fall to Woods. At age 39, Woods is stuck at 14 majors, his last won more than seven years ago.

"Next up is 40, he has to get his back right, he has to get his swing right, he has to compete again," six-time major winner Nick Faldo said. "The way he was talking the other day, he was talking this is the end and I'm really happy with my career. He might know more than we know."

Elkington is baffled by Woods' struggles following microdiscectomy surgery. The 53-year-old Aussie said he had the same procedure three months ago and was hitting golf balls within two weeks.

"I walked right out of the surgery and didn't look back," Elkington said. "I'm sure all the cases are different."

Woods' physical woes, personal turmoil off the course and myriad changes to his swing have left him a shell of the player who for years left his fellow competitors playing for second place.

While Woods has failed to win since August 2013, a generation of surpremely talented 20-somethings has emerged led by Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.

"There's a little blood in the water," Hale Irwin said. "The sharks are circling now. I do think Tiger's not as invincible as he once was."

Irwin won the 1990 U.S. Open at age 45 and picked up a record 45 wins on the Champions Tour. Few has rivaled the longevity of Irwin.

Now 70, he wonders whether another come-back is in the cards for Woods.

"You're going through the surgeries and off-course hardships he has," Irwin said. "It's anybody's ball game."

This article was written by Edgar Thompson from The Orlando Sentinel and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.