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For Tiger Woods, the end has never seemed closer

For Tiger Woods, the end has never seemed closer

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Even the most pyrotechnic of sporting careers is more apt to end with a damp squib than with a glittering display of brilliance. Sculpted bodies eventually cease cooperating, seemingly inconsequential injuries don’t heal, and luminous skills grow dull. Ted Williams was a rarity in many respects, but never moreso than when he homered in his final at-bat. Fortunate legends might enjoy a last teasing fly-ball, but most conclude matters with a weak grounder years after they ought to have headed for the showers.

The belief that one can clear the fences one more time usually endures well beyond the likelihood of actually doing so. This is particularly true in golf, a sport that permits athletes to remain competitively relevant much longer than any other endeavor in which equipment isn’t bearing the brunt of the labor.

Arnold Palmer’s swan song appearance on the PGA Tour came more than a half-century after his debut, and 11 years after he last made a cut. Jack Nicklaus saw weekend action in the year before he finally retired, 46 years after making his first cut on Tour. But both men went through the stages of grief familiar to icons well-stricken in years: first, insist you’ll quit when you can no longer win; second, say you’ll go when you’re just taking up a spot in the field; third, lower the bar to the final notch just above embarrassing yourself. Eventually, they all move reluctantly toward the door marked ‘Exit.’

So where on that continuum is Tiger Woods?

He’s certainly well shy of embarrassing himself, and like Arnold in his latter years has earned the right to do so if he chooses (but he won’t). Nor can he be accused of selfishly taking someone else’s place in the field, since he’s earned the berth he occupies. On paper, at 47 he’s still of an age where opportunities to win are fewer but not finished. But in practice, he’s so banged up that winning or even contending has never seemed more distant in the rearview.

There was an ineffable sadness in watching Woods limp around the golf course he bestrode like a colossus in 1997, when he won the Masters by a dozen strokes. There’s an understandable desire to focus on his swing mechanics, to find positive signs that the weaponry is intact. Now and again it is, but his is an artillery gun borne on a rickety wagon, too unpredictable and unstable to be relied upon in the battle.

Tiger Woods reacts after putting on the 18th green during the second round of The…


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