Tiger Woods chooses health over Masters

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Tiger Woods turned what could have been -- should have been? -- a straightforward announcement into one filled with drama. Was he really going to play in the Masters?

Given what we know -- and admittedly, it is very difficult to know all that has transpired behind the scenes over the past several months -- it never seemed plausible that Woods would tee it up at Augusta National next week. Or in any tournament, anytime soon, for that matter.

Two back surgeries. His "no light at the end of the tunnel" news conference in December. The lack of meaningful practice. No competition in seven months. All of that added up to skipping the year's first major championship, no matter how much Woods wants to be there.

Finally, after a week of speculation fueled by no updates on his status and no word if he was playing, Woods released the news Friday night that he'd be skipping the Masters for the second time in three years.

Whether he truly didn't know until Friday is the stuff of conjecture and cynicism. Had he announced a week ago he was not playing, nobody would have been surprised. It would have actually made less news than the late Friday announcement. That he waited to announce might have been wishful thinking, delaying the inevitable, offering hope ... all manner of reasons.

But the signs for remaining on the sideline were evident just about everywhere.

Unless he's been practicing in a cave someplace, or was able to somehow shut down the inevitable leaks that would have emanated from his clubs at the Medalist in Jupiter, Florida, and Albany in the Bahamas, a return so soon just did not add up.

Woods, 40, had a hard time walking in December, and he could not have reasonably been expected to be in full golf mode as recently as six weeks ago. On March 11, he said in a post on his website that he had only recently begun hitting full shots and that he was chipping and putting.

Even if he had been doing so for a month prior, the likelihood that he would be ready now seems remote. The two back surgeries were just part of the problem. There was also the issue of a golf swing that needed be honed. And the fact that he had a single top 10 finish over the past two seasons in which he played.

Then there's the lack of competition. Unfortunately for Woods, there is no place he can assimilate that other than a sanctioned tournament. There are no minor league rehab starts for golfers. He couldn't play the Web.com Tour if he wanted to do so. (As a fully exempt player on the PGA Tour, he is not allowed to drop down, anyhow.)

So at some point, Woods will need to jump back into the fire of competition, where expectations should be low but reality suggests every single shot and hole will be analyzed. That process will be daunting enough.

Did he really want that at Augusta National?

"I've said all along that this time I need to be cautious and do what's best for my long-term health and career," Woods wrote on his website. "Unfortunately, playing Augusta next week wouldn't be the right decision. I'm absolutely making progress, and I'm really happy with how far I've come, but I still have no timetable to return to competitive golf."

In so many words, Woods has said he returned too soon from his first back surgery on March 31, 2014, playing in less than three months at the Quicken Loans National. So if that was too soon, does returning in five months from two surgeries (his second back surgery in six weeks came on Oct. 28), make any more sense?

It clearly pains Woods to miss the Masters or any of the major championships. At age 40, the opportunities are dwindling. But as last year showed -- three missed cuts -- he cannot simply will himself into contention. He can't expect to compete against the likes of Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy when they are playing and practicing and he is not even going at full speed.

That will take some time and a whole lot of patience, something Woods admittedly lacks. But if he is going to come back and make one last run at greatness, possessing that attribute will be imperative.

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