As the noise surrounding LIV Golf continues to swirl, particularly within the incandescent echo chamber of social media, anticipation for Tiger Woods’ expected press conference at St Andrews next week is steadily intensifying.
With the exception of a few remarks at the US PGA Championship in May, the 15-time major champion has kept his counsel – publicly, at least – about the new Saudi-funded enterprise. He insists he has no desire to defect to the Greg Norman-led disruptor, insisting that his legacy is with the PGA Tour.
That, though, was before the first of the lucrative LIV Golf Invitational Series events were staged. There have now been two, with the third – taking place at Donald Trump’s Bedminster resort – to be staged before the month is out.
People, understandably, want to know what Woods thinks of it all. Has he watched it? Is he surprised by some of those it has been able to attract? Has his own position changed?
The expectation is that we’ll get answers to the questions, or the opportunity to ask them at least, when he appears before the media at next week’s 150th Open.
There is, though, another possibility that few have considered.
What if he uses his standing 11am on Tuesday media appearance to make an altogether different, bigger announcement?
What if he announces that he’s done? Not so much retiring as stepping away from playing and transitioning fully into a new phase of his career.
Consider the circumstances.
A milestone Open Championship on his favourite golf course in the world, a place where he has won the Claret Jug twice, where he completed the career grand slam in 2000, and the internationally-acclaimed ‘Home of Golf’.
If Woods harbours any ambitions of exiting the game on his own terms, next week makes more sense than not.
That he survived that car crash in February 2021 was undeniably fortunate. That he was able to return to the game at The Masters – where he played all four rounds – was borderline miraculous. But, as he acknowledged himself during the JP McManus Pro-Am earlier this week, his window for playing championship-level golf is “definitely not as long as I would like it to be”.
He’s a 47-year-old man. Had he enjoyed a ‘normal’, healthy career uninterrupted by injuries, that window would be closing purely by dint of Father Time being against him. But he’s got a fused back, a leg held together by metal and scars galore, both mental and physical. Courses are longer and his rivals are younger and healthier. At his very best, you can’t help but feel that Woods is still capable of beating most of them. But is that good enough for him? This, after all, is a guy who’s accustomed to beating all of them. His world ranking is disproportionately low – currently, he’s 974th – but the bookies are seldom wrong. They have him at around 50/1 to win the Open. An outside bet, basically. Is that what Tiger wants for his legacy? To be reduced to an also-ran, an each-way flutter, a punch-drunk boxer incapable of throwing in the towel because he knows how hard his haymakers used to hit?
All of which is to say nothing about Woods’ single biggest priority: his family. His kids are growing up fast. He lost so much time that he cannot get back due to being incapacitated by injuries and rehab. Does he really want to miss any more of those precious moments vainly pursuing that shadow of his former self?
These are all questions that he has presumably deliberated on in recent months and particularly since his physical ailments forced him to forego last month’s US Open at Brookline.
At present, there is no confirmed date for the next St Andrews Open beyond this year. The earliest it could return is 2026 by which time Woods will be a senior golfer.
Do not get me wrong. Writing off Tiger Woods is a fool’s errand. How many times has he proven us wrong in the past, confounding critics and defying expectations?
This, however, feels different. This feels like an opportunity for Woods to walk away from playing the game full-time on his own terms and at the most iconic and special of venues.
Underpinning it all is something that happened at Augusta National in April. At the end of his fourth round, a visibly struggling Woods fulfilled his media obligations before meeting his family underneath the big oak tree outside the clubhouse. He had just Sky Sports Golf of his intention to play The 150th Open at St Andrews. His daughter Sam asked him: “Did you tell them? Did you tell them?” “Yes,” Tiger replied. “I told Sky.”
I’ve thought about that a lot in recent weeks. Was Sam excited about her dad announcing he was playing St Andrews in and of itself, or because she knows that’s when he plans to step away from the game?
Speculation. Of course it is.
And yet the more I think about it, the more I wonder ‘what if?’ Beyond the Open, and barring a win, what else is there for Tiger to play in this year? He’s not going to qualify the FedEx Cup Playoffs. There’s no Ryder Cup on the calendar. He won’t make the Presidents Cup team. And does he really have any interest in being part of the PGA Tour’s new-look schedule? The place where he made his legacy is entering a new chapter. Why not Tiger, too?
Realistically, the next big event for a player of his calibre and a man of his condition is The Masters – and that’s nine, long, broadly uncompetitive months away.
Like him or not, support him or otherwise, Tiger Woods has redefined this sport in real time, in front of our very eyes. He deserves to exit the right way.
Standing on the Swilcan Bridge, saluting and taking the acclaim of a record Open Championship crowd in the cradle of the game, feels both opportune and apt.
All eyes on Tuesday.