Dave Boling

Boling: Will faltering Tiger Woods make it to Chambers Bay for U.S. Open?

Barely more than four months until the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, and golf’s biggest name is being used in infamy.

“Is Tiger Woods Finished?”

“Should Tiger Woods Retire?”

A more relevant question for us is whether Tiger Woods is going to be seen in Tacoma in the middle of June, and would he be able to haul his ailing parts across the waterfront terrain for 72 holes?

Woods is only 39, and still looks impressively fit … until he takes a big swing and can’t bend down to pick up his tee. The cumulative effects of back and knee issues joined with his recent ineffectiveness have prompted the speculation of his demise.

He shot an 82 on the second day of the Waste Management Phoenix Open to miss the cut. And last week, he withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open because of back pain.

He explained that the slow pace of play caused him to have trouble with “glute muscles” that were “deactivated.”

Under the L.A. Times headline “Time to break addiction to Tiger Woods’ show” was the claim “… Woods is done.”

It leads me to ask: What’s a guy like Tiger Woods do when he retires? Everybody else I know says, “Oh, I’ll play a lot of golf.” Does he get an office job?

He probably always can get endorsements for old-athlete ointments and meds. Like Shaquille O’Neal with IcyHot.

But doesn’t it seem premature to start writing the career epitaph for Woods?

Isn’t he one of those rare, transcendent athletes for whom the laws of natural physical deterioration don’t always apply, one who can’t be measured by customary standards?

Fact is, he made the cut in only five tournaments last season, and completed just five rounds in 2014 since the British Open in July.

Although he was the Tour’s leading money winner as recently as 2013, he’s always measured himself by his performance in the majors, and openly stated that his goal was to exceed Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major championships.

Starting at age 21 with a Masters title, Woods put together 14 major victories. He hasn’t won one, though, since 2008, when he was 32.

Since then his private life became tabloid fodder, but more obvious to observers was the physical change in Woods that caused him to show up at tournaments looking like an NFL strong safety.

Critics have wondered if the power he added to his savage swings overwhelmed the capacity of his connective tissues to hold it all together.

It certainly seemed at the time that the strength and fitness level would aid his assault on Nicklaus’ records. But the man once known as “Fat Jack” won nine majors after 32, including three after Woods’ age of 39. Nicklaus’ final major was the ’86 Masters at age 46.

Can Woods return to that level? It will take time to get physically right again. Fred Couples managed back troubles for years, limiting his appearances. Maybe that’s Woods’ best option.

The bigger question with Woods is whether he still has the drive. This is a man who played so hard, so early, and at such high intensity. Isn’t the human competitive spirit vulnerable to erosion?

His high personal expectations could work in two ways. If he still has that drive, it will keep bringing him back. But will that make it unbearably frustrating for him to cope with some degree of mediocrity as he works his way back?

Can he stand to be just another guy grinding on the tour?

That’s hard to imagine. Maybe he takes a year or two off to heal and refocus. Maybe he sets the clubs down and comes back at 50 to tear up the Champions Tour.

It’s hard to watch, though. The toll of time on great athletes can be unkind.

I covered Woods’ 15-stroke U.S. Open win at Pebble Beach in 2000, when it looked like no one could ever touch him. He had rendered courses obsolete; he had left the world’s best fighting for second place.

Once somebody’s experienced that, shooting 82 at the Phoenix Open has to be nearly unbearable.

Maybe he’ll recover quickly.

I just know that he’s not going to be able to make it around the hills of Chambers Bay if his glutes aren’t fully activated.

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