Boone: Yes, he makes the sport better

During the 2005 Masters, I was standing near the edge of the 16th green at the Augusta National Golf Club with my fists clenched and my heart in my throat.

Off the left side of the green, Tiger Woods, who was fighting desperately to cling to the one-stroke lead he had over Chris DiMarco, was preparing to hit an extremely difficult chip shot. With laser-like focus, Woods stalked around the green, analyzing every possible blade of grass and slope in his path.

The crowd was so silent you could hear the wind gently whisper through the Georgia pines that towered over the hole.

After contemplating every possible scenario, Woods addressed his ball and struck, sending the ball toward the back of the green, about 30 feet left of the cup.

And as if it were being guided by God himself, the little white ball slowly trickled down the slope toward the hole. As the ball got closer and closer to its destination, my disbelief grew.

And as if this moment were a commercial designed by Nike, the ball teetered on the edge of the cup, flashing the Nike swoosh for all the world to see, before disappearing. Woods, in his traditional Sunday-red outfit, let out a roar almost as loud as the crowd’s and pumped his fist into the air, signaling one thing — this tournament was his.

I miss these moments. The moments where you realized that Tiger Woods was unquestionably the greatest golfer on the face of the planet.

Fast forward 11 years, one sex scandal, one divorce and who knows how many injuries later, the former No. 1 golfer in the world is a shell of himself, and he’s been absent from the world of golf for quite some time.

He hasn’t won since the 2013 PGA Tour season and hasn’t played in a tournament since the Hero World Challenge on Dec. 7, 2015.

With the rise of golfers like Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, the game has seemingly forgotten him.

A name that used to strike fear in the hearts of his opponents, Woods has become an afterthought in sports conversations — not to mention the punchline of a few dirty jokes.

Woods was scheduled to return to golf at the Safeway Open last Thursday but withdrew from the event, stating that he wasn’t ready to compete.

So here’s my question: Tiger, will you ever be ready to compete?

It’s been far too long since the last time I flipped on the Golf Channel on a lazy Sunday afternoon and watched the man dressed in red and black compete. It’s been far too long since the last time I watched him sink a clutch putt, raise a trophy or put on another green jacket.

No, I don’t expect Tiger to win again, and I’m not saying he needs to.

But he does need to play again.

Yes, his past is shady, and he’s definitely not the best role model, but that’s over and done with now. The point is, golf needs him.

In the history of the sport, no one has drawn in a crowd like Tiger Woods. No one has inspired more people to play golf than Tiger Woods. And no one has hit more jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring golf shots than Tiger Woods.

From the kid who personally witnessed your greatness on several occasions: Tiger, you don’t need to be the best anymore. That part of your life is long gone.

But one thing remains certain in my eyes.

Please come back, at least for a little while. The game needs you.

Brannon: No, it’s time to step aside

Practicing in his backyard, Tiger Woods swings to hit a flop shot and collapses in pain. He struck a nerve in his back. He’s on the ground, and he can’t move. He doesn’t have his cellphone, and he can’t call anyone for help.

Eventually, his daughter finds him.

“Daddy, what are you doing lying on the ground?” I said, “Sam, thank goodness you’re here. Can you go tell the guys inside to try and get the cart out, to help me back up?” She says, “What’s wrong?” I said, “My back’s not doing very good.” She says, “Again?” I say, “Yes, again, Sam. Can you please go get those guys?” (Tiger Woods 40th Birthday Interview - Time magazine).

I loved Tiger. The two of us have great memories together. From conquering career mode in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 on PC to watching him sink a 12-foot putt to stay alive on the last hole of the 2008 U.S. Open. The man’s a legend.

But while there’s no game clock in golf, Tiger’s time has expired.

I’ll remember that 2008 putt forever because that’s the last time Tiger was Tiger.

After going on to win that tournament, his 14th major before age 32, he never won another.

And while he technically hasn’t retired yet, I don’t feel uneasy about using the term never. He knows it too.

When Tiger dropped out of last week’s Safeway Open, the magic number was extended to 14. It’s been 14 months since Tiger last started in a TOUR event, dating back to the 2015 Wyndam Championship.

“After a lot of soul searching, and honest reflection, I know that I am not yet ready to play on the PGA TOUR,” he told reporters.

Golf’s superhero had three surgeries in a 20-month span. The sport’s living legend sat out the entire 2015-16 season.

And it’s not just his body that’s failing him. He’s been plagued by a myriad of off-the-course issues over the last decade. It wasn’t only the affair. When his father, a lieutenant colonel and Vietnam war veteran, died in 2006, Tiger secretly chased a fantasy of enlisting as a Navy SEAL well after the recruitment age. He’d jump out of planes and run miles in combat gear. In July 2007, he announced he tore his ACL jogging, but his swing coach went on record saying Tiger had torn it in a combat simulator where he practiced clearing rooms and rescuing hostages.

All I’m trying to say is, he’s had and still has a lot going on. And I don’t think risking his body and pressuring himself to live up to unreachable expectations is going to make him happier.

“With all my heart, I do not want to stop playing golf,” he told Time. “But the flip side is, my kids’ lives are much more important to me. Now, if I can do both, that is an ideal world. It’s a win-win. If I can only do one, it wouldn’t be golf. It would be my kids. That’s still a win-win.”

Contact Matt Brannon at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @MattB_727.

Contact Ray Boone at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @rboone1994.

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