Many golf experts have not been shy in criticizing the recent form of Tiger Woods. On Wednesday, even Woods himself could not deny that his performances were falling far short of his best, announcing that he would take an indefinite leave of absence from the PGA tour to correct his game.
“Right now, I need a lot of work on my game, and to still spend time with the people are important to me,” Woods said in a statement. “My play, and scores, are not acceptable for tournament golf. Like I’ve said, I enter a tournament to compete at the highest level, and when I think I’m ready, I’ll be back.”
The decision comes after an unprecedented stretch of poor play for Woods, whose official world golf ranking has plummeted to 62nd. He withdrew from his last tournament, the Farmer’s Insurance Open at Torrey Pines on Feb. 5. Prior to Torrey Pines, he missed the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open after shooting a career-worst second-round 82.
Time off for Woods comes just after his return to golf following a two-month layoff following back surgery. Other injuries, unrelated to the surgery, are responsible for the poor play and tour withdraw, according to Woods.
“I am having daily physical therapy and I’m feeling better every day,” he said.
If that is the case, taking time off seems to makes sense. Woods said in the statement he will be practicing at his home course until he felt his game was at an appropriate level for tournament play. The 2015 version of Woods has been dismal, nearly unrecognizable to the player who had won 14 majors between 1997 and 2008.
There have some signs of promise. His average driving distance (323 yards) has risen, but his accuracy (just 50 percent GIR) and short game (poor scrambling, -.499 strokes gained putting) have been abysmal. He appears to be attributing his poor play to some combination of rust, discomfort and nagging injuries.
Withdrawing from Torrey Pines came after back pain and a poor start amidst lengthy, on-again-off-again fog delays. Woods never seemed fully fit, instead suffering back discomfort that clearly affected his game.
“It tightened up during the suspensions and it never loosened back up again,” Woods told reporters after withdrawing.
Woods may have recovered from the surgery, but it appears nagging issues remain that are affecting him on the course. Time off might be the best remedy.
It may make sense for Woods to practice at home, and play as many holes or hit as many range balls as he physically can to see how it feels. That relieves the pressure, media-attention and internal competitive drive to try and push through pain. Woods can also duff as many shots as he needs to grow into some kind of comfort with a new swing he worked on with instructor Chris Como.
“He needs to work on this away from a public setting,” Mark Steinberg, Woods’ agent, told ESPN’s Bob Harig.
"He’s not pleased with where his game is right now. He’s going to work on every single facet.”
Woods has previously bounced back from injuries, and should have a feel for when his game is ready. The 39-year-old said in his statement he would like to play the Honda Classic, which starts Feb. 26 and is near his Florida home.
Woods added that he expects to play “very soon,” which would indicate he feels his game can recover quickly. After his last two showings, however, it’s hard to imagine Woods getting his golf game into shape in barely more than 10 days.
The real test will be if Woods can feel comfortable on the course when the Masters kicks off on April 10. A strong showing at Augusta would be a major confidence boost and a sign that Woods has turned a corner in his rehab. A poor showing, or no showing at all, will almost certainly raise more questions and increase the media scrutiny over one of golf's all-time greats.