For Tiger Woods, the fight is all that's left

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Tiger Woods withdrew from the 2022 PGA Championship on Saturday night. This is not a surprise. The surprise is that he was in the field. The surprise is that he has fought his way back from another would-be career-ending catastrophe. The surprise is that anyone, at this point, is still surprised by Tiger Woods.

The 2022 PGA Championship will forever have a "WD" next to Woods' name. That doesn't begin to cover the significance of the week. Yes, he stumbled to a +12 finish Saturday after a nine-over round. But after a run where he carded bogey or worse on seven of eight holes, he finished Southern Hills' tough final four holes in one-under to keep a dreaded 80 off his record. This, after making the cut by one shot after being one stroke on the low side with seven holes to play Friday. He got around Southern Hills on will alone, and the agony of every shot was clear in the lines on his face that grew deeper each day.

Fifteen months ago to the day, Woods suffered catastrophic injuries in a single-car rollover in the early hours of the morning in Los Angeles. It was a devastating wreck — police approaching the scene feared Woods had died, and doctors initially believed he could lose his leg — followed by months of brutal physical therapy and rehabilitation. Woods ground his way through that agony, silent except for the occasional choreographed social media leak, until he was ready to return to public view as a precisely engineered Golf Dad and, later, at Augusta, as the Eternally Unbowed Champion.

Why would he put himself through all that pain, all that effort, all those hours of unrelenting rehabilitation with no clear chance of success? Because he's Tiger Woods, of course.

Tiger Woods plays his shot from the seventh tee during the second round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Southern Hills Country Club. (Orlando Ramirez/USA TODAY Sports)
Tiger Woods plays his shot from the seventh tee during the second round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Southern Hills Country Club. (Orlando Ramirez/USA TODAY Sports)

Because he's Tiger Woods. It's an answer that dodges the question and completely answers it, a classic case of if you know, you know.

How did a skinny 21-year-old kid carve up Augusta National and win the Masters? Because he's Tiger Woods.

How did that kid go on to hold all four majors at once? Because he's Tiger Woods.

How did he win a U.S. Open on a broken leg? Because he's Tiger Woods.

It works the other way, too. Why did he detonate his family life and forever tarnish his good name? Because he's Tiger Woods.

Why did he continue to run afoul of traffic laws, leading to multiple accidents with more questions than answers? Because he's Tiger Woods.

Why did he keep fans, fellow players, media — anyone not in his tight inner circle — at arm's length, punishing and excommunicating anyone who violated his trust? Because he's Tiger Woods.

Why does he keep fighting, slapping his way to over-par round after over-par round, long after any other player would have put the clubs in the closet for good? Because he's Tiger Woods.

Why does he continue to command more attention than the rest of the field combined? Because he's Tiger Woods.

I've thrown dirt on the coffin of Woods' career before. "Here’s the cold truth: retirement is looming large in Woods’ near future," I once wrote, "retirement brought on by a body broken and repaired too many times, a mind that finally acknowledges the sad inevitable." The date of that eulogy? Feb. 10, 2017. Spoiler: Not only did Woods not retire, he went out and claimed multiple tournaments, including another green jacket.

So no more grand pronouncements about the end of the road, no more hot takes about how we'll never see Tiger win again. To start, I wouldn't gamble five bucks that Woods will never win again, much less guarantee it. After what we all saw in 2019 at Augusta, would you?

The greater point is this: The trophies aren't really the endgame anymore. Yes, Woods still wants to chase majors, still wants to get those three more to catch Jack Nicklaus. It's why he won't bother with lower-tier PGA Tour events; he's aiming for the biggest game every time he tees up.

The true victory for Woods doesn't come from being the last man standing Sunday. It now comes from just standing on a Sunday, just making it through the week when so many others — maybe all others — would have called it a career.

"He's the ultimate pro," Rory McIlroy said after Friday's round, where Woods fought his way under the cutline in one of the great battles of his career. "If that would have been me, I would have been considering pulling out and just going home, but Tiger is different and he's proved he's different."

Woods has played golf professionally for 25 years. He would have been a Hall of Famer had he retired after just five. He has nothing to prove to anyone but himself anymore. Whenever he does decide to retire — whether it's next week or 40 years from now, and both are in play — he'll do it on his own terms.

Because he's Tiger Woods.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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