Commentary

Time to call it a season, Tiger

Updated: August 9, 2014, 11:22 AM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPN.com

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- In a PGA Championship that has seen players pulling out with injuries left and right, dropping as if they just endured the hell of a Bear Bryant training camp, Tiger Woods deserves a cookie or two for doing what the culture expects our athletes to do.

Playing hurt? Rubbing some dirt on it? Hey, it's the American way.

[+] EnlargeWoods
Thomas J. Russo/USA TODAY SportsPlaying through obvious pain in Friday's second round of the PGA Championship, Tiger Woods missed the 36-hole cut by 5 shots at Valhalla Golf Club.

But as it turned out, Woods had no business competing in a major this week. He said the back spasms that caused him to withdraw at Firestone on Sunday had settled, and that they had nothing to do with the back injury that caused him to undergo significant surgery March 31.

The claim wasn't easy to believe, but it didn't much matter. Woods was giving it a go.

He shot 74 in the first round at Valhalla with a back he said was merely stiff, and then he shot 74 in the second round with a back that felt like a four-alarm fire. Woods hurt it again with one fateful swing of his 4-iron on the practice range Friday.

"Just had to play through it," he said.

He needs to quit playing through it now. He needs to forget about the Ryder Cup, give his back the rest of the year off, and start preparing to stop all this Rory McIlroy madness at Augusta National, the one place the kid hasn't conquered.

What does Woods tell American captain Tom Watson about his status for the Ryder Cup?

"I don't know," he said. "He hasn't called."

Woods should call Watson today, not tomorrow, and tell him to go get 'em in Scotland without him.

This has nothing to do with the fact that Woods isn't exactly Ian Poulter in the Ryder Cup anyway, or that the last time the U.S. beat Europe -- in 2008 here at Valhalla -- Woods wasn't part of the parade; he was recovering from the leg injuries he overcame in beating Rocco Mediate in their epic U.S. Open playoff for his 14th and last major title.

Watson would be a fool not to pick a healthy Woods, 13-17-3 overall Ryder Cup record or no 13-17-3 overall Ryder Cup record. Tiger's one of the two finest players of all time, right there with the guy Watson beat a few times in his day, Jack Nicklaus.

No, this is about what's right for Woods, his body and his lifelong quest to strip the magic from Nicklaus' magic number, 18.

"It was sore," Woods said of his back. "No doubt it was sore."

If a man who admits nothing is admitting his back is sore, he is in fact disclosing a debilitating injury.

"It was telling me on the range it probably wasn't a good idea [to play]," Woods said. "But I'm not exactly a non-stubborn person."

So he looked like a broken man out there Friday on a course Nicklaus designed, hunched and wincing after tee shots and gingerly bending over -- stiff-legged -- to mark his ball or to perform routine housekeeping on the green. On the par-5 seventh, after delivering yet another one-armed follow-through on a drive that careened into a bog, Woods began to reach for his back with his right hand before stopping himself.

He missed fairways and short putts, and when he yanked off his glove or slammed his club into the grass like he did after a lousy bunker shot at No. 4, Woods looked like just another weekend warrior wearing the body language of disgust.

Only he won't be playing on the weekend at Valhalla, not after he missed the cut for only the 12th time in his pro career. Woods said his second-round goal was to land under par and put himself "right in the ballgame." In the end, he had no place in McIlroy's ballgame.

"He's got to get well," said Woods' caddie, Joe LaCava.

Woods is not going to get well like this. He did deliver a brief flashback of the Old Tiger at the Open Championship, shooting a 3-under 69 in a pain-free opening round before hitting balls for 40 minutes on the range. Only his swing ultimately betrayed him at Hoylake before his body did the same at Firestone.

Woods had no chance at Valhalla, where he had ordered the ball into the hole and survived Bob May in a different life. Fourteen years later, muscle memory didn't stand a chance, not with Woods' back leaving him with the posture of an old man shooing pigeons in a park.

Phil Mickelson dusted him by a dozen strokes over two days, and punctuated his second round with an eagle at 18 and a thumbs-up to his coach, Butch Harmon, the former Woods coach who was doing TV in a tower above the green.

Watson, 64 years old, beat Tiger by 3 strokes three weeks after beating Woods by 5 at Hoylake. In fact, Watson, Bernhard Langer, Fred Couples and Mark Calcavecchia -- average age of 57 -- are all ahead of Woods in the FedEx Cup standings.

It's all a reflection of his injury, of course, and his need now to take care of it once and for all.

"Obviously by playing, you can't burn the candle at both ends," Woods said. "I need to get stronger physically and be back to where I was."

He spoke of getting back in the gym, but wouldn't estimate how much time he needed away from the game. This much is clear: On a soft and vulnerable golf course, Woods shouldn't be shooting the same 6-over that John Daly shot. He shouldn't be scrambling for bogeys with a faceless knot of PGA club pros.

Mickelson said the Woods he was paired with Thursday and Friday fought with a lot of heart. "That's always the way I play," Tiger said.

There's no debating that, or Woods' statement that he'd tried as hard as he could. But trying isn't enough for an all-time great. Woods has now gone 20 majors without a W, a once unthinkable run of futility.

People used to wonder if Woods would win 25 majors, and now some believe he won't make it to 15. Chances are, they're wrong. He should win a big one again, if not a bunch, but he has to give his body a chance to let him.

It's time for Tiger Woods to shut it down, and to tell Tom Watson to go shut down the Europeans without him.

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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