With his favorite tournament just three weeks away, Tiger Woods was playing some of his best golf in recent memory. He finished second in the Honda Classic last week, with a closing 62 that represented the best final round of his career. The second-place showing marked his best finish in a PGA Tour event in 30 months.
If Woods wasn't all the way back from that fateful Thanksgiving night in 2009 — when an early-morning accident and revelations of adultery blew up his marriage and life as he knew it — he was getting pretty close.
But Woods' troublesome left leg caused him to withdraw Sunday from the Cadillac Championship. That brings into question not only his prospects for the Masters but also his long-term goal of eclipsing Jack Nicklaus' record 18 wins in the major tournaments.
"I felt tightness in my left Achilles warming up this morning, and it continued to get progressively worse," Woods said in a statement. "After hitting my tee shot at 12, I decided it was necessary to withdraw. In the past I may have tried to continue to play, but this time I decided to do what I thought was necessary."
His mind and spirit are willing. His 36-year-old body is another matter. Woods has endured four operations on his left knee, including reconstructive surgery on a damaged ACL following his 2008 U.S. Open victory. Now he's reporting trouble with his left Achilles for the second time in two years, after experiencing issues with his right Achilles in 2008-2009.
"It's a shame, because he looked like he was coming out this year, swinging it really well, playing good, getting himself into contention," world No. 1 Rory McIlroy told reporters Sunday. "It's probably just precautionary, but I really hope he's healthy for the Masters, because obviously it would be a great week with him there."
Catching Nicklaus was never going to be easy, no matter how much Woods dominated golf for more than a decade. Even if had avoided the scandal that undoubtedly set him back, Woods would still have had to fight off up-and-comers such as McIlroy and contemporaries such as Phil Mickelson.
But just as important, Woods' muscles, joints and back have to cooperate, too.
Without good health, he'll remain a shell of his former self, leaving us nothing but our memories. We've never seen anyone like him before, and we hope we haven't seen the last of him. Unfortunately, the outlook is cloudy at the moment.