Time to quiet the Tiger quitter talk


DORAL, Fla. -- What's the statute of limitations on despising someone?

Does dislike (bordering on occasional hatred) have an expiration date?

Or more succinctly, why do so many people have a jones against Tiger Woods?

Woods returned to a golf course Wednesday. Three days after withdrawing from the final round of the Honda Classic, he was here at Trump National Doral for a rescheduled news conference. The opening topic: the condition of his back.

"I feel better, how about that?" Woods said, smiling. "It feels good."

If Woods is concerned about the lower back spasms that caused him to limp off PGA National after 13 holes last Sunday, he didn't show it. If he's aware of the whispers, murmuring and backlash related to the latest withdrawal, he didn't show that either.

"As we get older -- and I've learned it as I've aged -- I don't quite heal as fast as I used to," said Woods, who will begin Thursday's WGC-Cadillac Championship without having played a practice round on the revamped Blue Monster. "I just don't bounce-back like I used to ... There's times that watching my kids run around, I wish I could do that again."

The line got a laugh in the room. But make no mistake: The growing, vocal anti-Woods faction jumped on the WD at Honda like kids on a backyard trampoline. The criticism of his decision to call it quits in the final round (he was 5-over-par for the day) was unfiltered, unlimited and, all things considered, unreasonable.

Here's a Godiva sampler of assorted emails and tweets I've received since the walk-off:

--"He is only `hurt' when he is out of contention and playing poorly. . . [He's] a cheat and a quitter when the going gets tough."

--"Don't worry, Tiger will be back [this] week. You can count on it: a nonexistent injury heals remarkably quickly."

--"Tiger will be fine -- until he gets to 5-over."

--"Just another top-30 golfer these days."

--"... It's very fortunate his injuries don't show up when he is in contention. Oh, that's right -- the 2008 U.S. Open. Guess what, he didn't withdraw."

There seems to be no in-between when it comes to Woods. He is a polarizing figure whose every word and action is analyzed as if it were a frame of Zapruder film.

Did he WD because his back was killing him, or was he jaking it?

Did he walk off because he didn't want to risk further injury or because he didn't want to risk further embarrassment (he shot a front-nine 40)?

He said in a quickie statement last Sunday that his back pain was similar to what he experienced at Barclay's in 2013. He played through the pain there, but he bailed at Honda? What gives?

In short, there are a lot of people out there who don't trust Tiger.

"He's held to a different standard, for sure," said Steve Stricker, whose reputation on the PGA Tour as a stand-up guy is beyond reproach. "People hold him up to this high standard that is unfair at times."

Then Stricker, a frequent Ryder Cup partner of Woods, got to the gist of it.

"I think the whole thing that fell apart for him has created that, don't you?" he said.

The whole thing that fell apart. We all know what Stricker is delicately referring to -- Woods' personal issues in 2009.

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