Is Tiger Woods Now A Ceremonial Golfer?

Michael Weston follows a tired Tiger Woods around Augusta National and questions whether this may be the last time we see him playing the famous venue

Tiger Woods crowds Masters
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Of all the 54 players left competing for the 2023 Masters, there’s one player that needs these bad weather suspensions like a hole in the head. Tiger Woods. Saturday was a cold one, certainly no good for ailing joints.

Only Woods himself knows how long he can continue to play professional golf against the game’s elite. He’s been wounded before – plenty of times since winning the 2008 US Open with a wrecked lower half – and come back. Now, though, he just looks defeated – and tired. Very tired.  

Watching the 47-year-old from just outside the ropes during the delayed third round on Saturday, his body language suggested that he’d rather be anywhere else than fighting it out near the back of the field. To be fair, the weather here in Georgia has been beyond horrid. Cold, too, not just wet and slippy. Combined with Augusta’s twisting, sloping fairways, it’s quite hazardous for a man who’s been through the wars.

To be clear, as far as we know, Woods isn’t suffering any fresh injury concerns, although at times it looked like he was, bad blisters at the very least. Even in his pomp, he’s never had the quickest walk – it’s always been more of a measured stride, a confident one. These days, the stride has shortened to such a degree that it’s become more of an awkward shuffle.

Tiger Woods Limping

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He’s in pain – he admits such. “Constant pain”. It can’t be much fun, and even those who have ridiculed Woods for his past misdemeanors and questionable off course behaviour, must surely share some sympathy for the position that he now finds himself in.

And that position? He’s stuck. Does he carry on pushing himself through the pain barrier that seems to move up a notch with every season that passes, in the hope that he might get another ‘W’?  

This is what he’s been used to his whole life. Since turning professional in 1996, he’s amassed a mind-boggling 82 PGA Tour victories. Is it the knowledge that just one more win would see him pass the great Sam Snead? Just one more. 

It’s not Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 Major Championships that drives him on. Even the most ardent Woods fans gave up on this long ago, as did Woods, even after he managed to somehow pull off one of the most incredible feats in modern sport to win the Masters in 2019.

Tiger Woods Masters 2019

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Prior to the start of this year’s Masters, Woods made it pretty clear why he’s still playing. He has “an appreciation of being able to play the game”. Let’s not forget how lucky he is just to be walking after suffering a car crash two years ago that left him with a severely broken right leg and ankle.

“I've said this before, prior to my back fusion, I didn't know that I was going to be able to play the game at any kind of level,” the five-time Masters champion said at the start of the week. “I was able to do that and come back and play and happened to win a Major along the way.

“Then obviously with the accident, it's been a tough, tough road, and again, it's the appreciation of being able to play this game. And then to be able to come here and play at Augusta National, it's such a special place and it means so much to me in my heart to be able to come here and play this golf course and just appreciate the memories that I've had here, whether it's in competition or the practice rounds or the stories.

“There are so many… so much of my life has been here at Augusta National, and again just so excited to be back here again and compete and play.”

No bold predictions then, like he may have made in the past. Before it’s all been about the ‘W’, but now, and given everything he’s been through – many of his problems self inflicted – he’s a lot more realistic. Of the injuries that have ravaged his body, he added: “It is what it is. I wish it could be easier. I've got three more years, where I get the little buggy and be out there with Fred [Couples] but until then no buggy.”

Tiger and son

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He has a sense of humor does Woods, but he’s been cursed with rotten luck in terms of his fitness – again, some of it self inflicted. In his press conference, he also revealed that he's not a good sleeper. Does he lay there and ever wonder, 'What if?' ‘What if my back hadn’t failed me?’ ‘What if my knees and ankles had just lasted another decade?’ 'I'd so have had Nicklaus'. 

I watched Woods amble through Amen Corner. At times I was no more than a few yards from him. Seeing him strike the ball still sent shivers down my spine. Despite the relentless downpours, he attracted swarms of people, more than any other group on the course – and he probably will for as long as he decides to keep coming here.

I can’t help but feel that won’t be for much longer. There’s surely a limit to how much pain he can tolerate and how much mental strain the recovery takes out of him. 

Tiger Woods Masters 2023

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“The joy is different now,” Woods said on Tuesday. “I've been able to spend more time with my son, and we've been able to create our own memories out there. And to share some of the things that my dad, what I experienced with my dad, the late-night putting or practice sessions that we did at the Navy Golf Course, I'm doing with my son. It's incredible, the bonding and the moments that come because of this sport.

“So the joy, it's different. I'm not able to compete and play as many tournaments or do the things I've been able to do over the years. But to be able to still share this game and share some memories and create new memories with my son and also pass on some of the things that I've learned…I've learned a lot of things in this game, so to pass that on to him and others has been fantastic.”

And that’s why he continues to play. Is he now a ceremonial golfer? Perhaps, but for as long as he chooses to tee it up, he’ll still be box office. And if he's Ok with still playing, then maybe that's Ok. It would just be nice to maybe see a few more smiles because, at times today, he just looked sad. Still, enjoy hime whilst you still can – or don't. Not everyone does. 

Michael Weston
Contributing editor

Michael has been with Golf Monthly since 2008. As a multimedia journalist, he has also worked for The Football Association, where he created content to support the men's European Championships, The FA Cup, London 2012, and FA Women's Super League. As content editor at Foremost Golf, Michael worked closely with golf's biggest equipment manufacturers, and has developed an in-depth knowledge of this side of the industry. He's now a regular contributor, covering instruction, equipment and feature content. Michael has interviewed many of the game's biggest stars, including six world number ones, and has attended and reported on many Major Championships and Ryder Cups. He's a member of Formby Golf Club.