Tiger come­back be­comes the Tiger tease

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - Doug Fer­gu­son AP Sports Colum­nist

NAPA, CALIF. >> The Tiger come­back has be­come the Tiger tease.

And not just for golf fans.

It can’t be easy for Tiger Woods to feel healthy enough to play, only for the lit­tle voices in his head telling him to wait.

For all the spec­u­la­tion about what’s go­ing on with Woods, only he knows why his game would be good enough to com­mit to the Safe­way Open one day, and why three days later it was not. That wouldn’t seem to leave much time for what he said was “a lot of soul searching and hon­est re­flec­tion” be­fore de­cid­ing to with­draw.

Woods said on Sept. 7 that he hoped to play this week in the Safe­way Open at Sil­ver­ado, along with the Turk­ish Air­lines Open in early Novem­ber and his Hero World Chal­lenge the first week of De­cem­ber in the Ba­hamas. His progress fol­low­ing two back surg­eries last year al­lowed him to make such plans, which looked more like a re­al­ity when he of­fi­cially en­tered the Safe­way Open on Fri­day.

He was gone be­fore he was ever back.

The por­ta­ble signs lead­ing to Sil­ver­ado flashed a warn­ing to driv­ers to “ex­pect de­lays” be­cause of the golf tour­na­ment. Traf­fic isn’t likely to be an is­sue any longer. Wine tast­ing goes back to be­ing the main event.

There was no short­age of apolo­gies from Woods. He was fully aware of the ram­i­fi­ca­tions. He said he had ev­ery in­ten­tion of play­ing and wouldn’t have en­tered if he felt oth­er­wise. “This isn’t what I wanted to hap­pen,” he said.

It was the right de­ci­sion be­cause it was his de­ci­sion.

Woods showed plenty of loy­alty to the PGA Tour by also can­cel­ing in Turkey, which will at­tract a strong field as part of the fi­nal stretch of events in the Race to Dubai on the Euro­pean Tour. That leaves the Ba­hamas as his next come­back, sub­ject to change.

Most dis­con­cert­ing to Woods is that ac­cord­ing to his state­ment, this had noth­ing to do with his health, and ev­ery­thing to do with his con­fi­dence.

It’s one thing to say his game is not ready. It’s an­other to say his game is vul­ner­a­ble.

Vul­ner­a­ble to what — scor­ing or scru­tiny?

The 14 months since Woods last played have been filled with mixed mes­sages. Woods has used de­featist terms like “I’ve had a pretty good run” and say­ing any­thing else he ac­com­plishes in golf “will be gravy.” Then again, he has never failed to ex­press his de­sire to play again.

Jes­per Parnevik, in an in­ter­view with Golf Di­gest in the Novem­ber is­sue, said they have played nine holes at the Medal­ist Golf Club in Florida and “by the way, he’s been hit­ting a lot of balls, and he’s hit­ting it great.”

“On the range, at least, his tra­jec­tory and ball flight are like the Tiger we knew 15 years ago,” Parnevik said.

Hank Haney, his for­mer swing coach, said Tues­day on Sir­iusXM PGA Tour Ra­dio that a well-known tour pro watched Woods about a month ago in Florida and de­scribed ev­ery other chip or pitch as “a blade or a chunk.” The mys­tery deep­ens. Golfers say all the time that their ex­pec­ta­tions are higher than any­thing the fans can put on them. That es­pe­cially rings true in this case. Does any­one re­ally ex­pect Woods to play any­thing like the Woods who toyed with com­pe­ti­tion for more than a decade? Prob­a­bly not. But does Woods ex­pect that?

The aura of Woods is not what it was and never will be again. That’s sim­ply age. Woods is 40 and seems a lot older be­cause of seven surg­eries, in­clud­ing three on his back in the last 30 months. He has been gone from golf from 14 months and it feels much longer.

Johnny Miller, the NBC Sports an­a­lyst and host at Sil­ver­ado, sug­gested Mon­day that Woods “has got to break the ice some­time.” Even with the at­ten­tion Woods brings, the Safe­way Open would have been a safe re­turn. It’s the mid­dle of foot­ball sea­son and base­ball play­offs. More than any­thing, it would have been a start.

Now it feels like stage fright.

Woods does not want to re­turn un­til he feels he can com­pete. He missed a full week of prac­tice while be­ing an as­sis­tant at the Ry­der Cup two weeks ago, though that still doesn’t ex­plain why he felt good enough to re­turn to the PGA Tour on Fri­day and with­drew on Mon­day.

Woods says he wants to play. He says his body will al­low him to play.

But he’s not play­ing. He’s waiting.

The scru­tiny has never left him, and it never will. And un­til he plays again, his game will al­ways feel vul­ner­a­ble.

Doug Fer­gu­son cov­ers golf for The As­so­ci­ated Press.

MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

Tiger Woods watches a col­lege foot­ball game be­tween Stan­ford and Wash­ing­ton State last week­end. The come­back of Tiger Woods is go­ing to have to wait at least two more months.

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