The ceremonial era for Tiger Woods will help us prepare for the end

Tiger Woods watches the action at The Match in 2022

Tiger Woods looks on during The Match Saturday night in Florida.

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Colin Montgomerie made headlines this week, suggesting that Tiger Woods should have retired this past summer, at St. Andrews, waving goodbye to the hordes of fans as he crossed the Swilcan Bridge one final time. 

Imagine, just for a second, how that all would have gone. 

Sportswriters on site would have the most romantic material of their careers. Sportswriters back home would be jealous. Photographers would sell photos from that moment forever. Thoughtful golf fans would be respectful but their hasty brethren would be indignant. The common sports fan would lean towards “good riddance,” having read more negative headlines about Woods in the last five years than positive ones. 

And then, in April, we would all still be talking about him. 

Don’t blame Monty, who has no clue what it’s like to be Tiger Woods. Woods’ presence in sport is unlike anyone who has or will ever play this game. His retirement will create a nagging little cloud that hovers in the sport’s forecast for years.

“Why go on?” Montgomerie reasoned, on the Bunkered Podcast. “Go out at the top. It’s something very few can do.”

Tiger Woods waves his hat to fans as he walks across the Swilken Bridge on the 18th hole during the second round of The 150th Open Championship on The Old Course at St Andrews on July 15, 2022 in St. Andrews, Scotland.
‘Why go on?’ Tiger Woods should have retired, says longtime rival
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What Monty is inspired by, no doubt, is how much of a struggle it was for Woods to play golf this year, one year removed from nearly having his right leg amputated. He limped his way through four rounds at Augusta National, bowed out after three rounds at the PGA Championship and made 10 bogeys over two tough rounds at the Open.

What Monty gets wrong is that just because it isn’t graceful doesn’t mean it’s less than great. There are levels to going out on one’s terms and its rarely pleasant. Just ask Tom Brady and Serena Williams and Justin Verlander. Those “levels” are why December 2022 is the first step toward making it a more comfortable reality. 

Woods was too banged up to walk 18 holes each day at his Hero World Challenge event in the Bahamas, having developed plantar fasciitis in the weeks prior. That ailment does not leave quickly. Tiger is still feeling it today and he’ll still be feeling it on Christmas Day. Maybe by the time of his Genesis Invitational in February, he’ll feel good enough to give it a go. In place of his entertaining us as a golfer, we received his spiciest press conference in years. Perhaps in his entire career. We’ll take it.

Then we got The Match, where Woods was the worst golfer on offer, but still the kingpin for drawing viewers in to Saturday night fall golf. The ratings spoke for themselves — people will still watch him play golf, even on an uninspiring course at night. Watching Woods rope-hook his way from tee to green with four consecutive 5-irons was the type of juice golf nerds desperately want to get drunk on. Meanwhile, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth trashed the old man like any son who finally beat his dad in H-O-R-S-E. Come for Tiger, stay for the real entertainment could be a winning strategy for this enterprise.

As for primetime television, Woods wasn’t special. His mic’d-up explanations are always more coy than colorful. His best idea of humor was switching his golf cart into its noisy REVERSE gear while Thomas addressed a shot. You’ll find funnier jokes on the floor of a 10 a.m. open mic. But, hey! The man is trying. That cutthroat golfer who perfected the sport has almost never turned to the camera with comfort. Baby steps, folks.

Think back to The Match 1, where Woods was oddly silent compared to his opponent, Phil Mickelson. Well, the latter is no longer affiliated with The Match, so it’ll be up to Woods to continue easing his way into being a ceremonial-yet-serious golfer. If we let him do it, we’ll learn some more about him in the process. He might just be a simpleton, but we won’t find out by looking away. Or by him going away. 

The future for Woods is bound to include many more events like this one, with his new virtual golf business venture coming to primetime TV schedules in 12 months. “The needle” as he knows it needs some ‘Rated PG’ sharpening, but the more iterations we have of Woods smiling from fun golf, dumb golf, goofy golf, the more comfortable we’ll be when he struggles at the serious golf. It’s exposure therapy, in a way, and we’re all patients. Therapy that continues this week at the PNC Championship: Woods on a golf cart, watching Little Woods swing 100%, inching closer to retirement and all of us enjoying it. Especially him.

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Sean Zak Editor

Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine and just finished a book about the summer he spent in St. Andrews.