People usually ask me the same two questions when they find out I cover golf: "Who are the nicest guys on the PGA Tour?" and "Who are the biggest jerks on the PGA Tour?"
Lately, those questions are quickly followed by a third: "Is Tiger Woods done?"
Allow me to get a little something off my chest. This almost feels a little embarrassing considering today's culture, since it seems like everyone's birthright to have a scorching hot take on all subjects, then welcome the subsequent debate. But here goes nothing.
I have no idea whether he's done.
I don't even know what "done" really means. Done being the world's best golfer? Done winning majors? Done playing competitive tournaments?
Based on the interpretation of the question, answers can range from overenthusiastic optimism to petulant pessimism. No one knows, of course. They just think they know -- which is what sparks all of these debates in the first place.
In today's media world, predicting the future has become a cottage industry. Let's not only blame my media brethren, though. Go check Twitter. Hang out at the local 19th hole.
I get it. That's the way it works these days. We collectively want to hit the fast forward button, spoiler alerts be damned.
And yet, I don't.
One of the greatest reasons to love sports -- arguably the greatest reason to love sports -- is because of the unknown. There's no canned ending, no storybook finish written by some Hollywood screenwriter.
Why do we continually try to flip to the end of the script? Why do we need to know immediately? Why do we feel the need to have an answer to that burning question: Is Tiger done?
It sounds like a simple three-word query, but without any context it becomes frustratingly complex. We're not only trying to answer an ambiguous question; we're attempting to form a conclusion which ultimately won't be resolved for years. That won't stop it from being asked, especially as Woods reaches his 40th birthday, which qualifies as enough of a newsworthy event for the question to surface once again.
The optimists will contend that he's the greatest of all time, is only two years removed from being the world's No. 1 player and has returned from injuries before. The pessimists will rightly point out he's undergone three back procedures since his last victory and the game is trending younger by the week, with four of the world's top six players between the ages of 22 and 28. Even Woods isn't immune to occasionally gazing into a theoretical crystal ball and proffering thoughts on his own future.
"Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? I don't know, so that's been hard," Woods said prior to his own Hero World Challenge earlier this month. "To have had the amount of success I've had in such a short period of time, it's been really cool. I think pretty much everything beyond this will be gravy."
My colleague Bob Harig attended that press conference and ran into Woods a few more times later in the week, too. He told me that by week's end, his tone had gradually improved, but he thought Woods might have been a victim of the moment when asked about his future, failing to see past the current situation. His back was still in searing pain, his rehab consisted of short walks and lots of rest, it had been months since he'd even thought about hitting a golf ball and it might be months until he thinks about doing it again.
None of this makes Woods guilty of anything the rest of the world hasn't been doing for two years. We collectively witness him blast a towering approach to 5 feet for birdie and declare him back (whatever that means). We watch him wince after a meek effort at a swing and declare him done (whatever that means).
I asked him about this sensation back in the summer after the second round of the Quicken Loans National, where he looked completely healthy, posted a 5-under 66 and got himself into contention entering the weekend. I asked what he thought of the general public so quickly dismissing its own claims of his career being "done" and in the moment declaring him "back."
He shrugged, paused deliberately for about five seconds and replied: "Does that sound answer it?"