Tiger Woods plays the Masters 2020.

Tiger Woods is trying to tell us that, and it’s a testament to his greatness if we don’t quite believe it. But we should. When a 45-year-old man who has had five back and five knee surgeries says he just survived something much worse and can’t see himself as a full-time golfer anymore, believe it word.

And with that, the Tiger and Phil era is over.

It was one of the best sporting shows and it transformed golf. There were two rivals here standing on either side of the ball, with personalities so completely different that you almost had to line up behind one or the other. Phil liked the heat of crowds. Tiger was a cold blooded killer. Phil wanted to be loved. Tiger commanded respect. Phil said too much. Tiger said too little. What they had in common was immense talent and unwavering faith in their abilities, but it also manifested itself in very different ways. Phil lived for the daring blow. Tiger was constantly calculating. Their once icy relationship only added to the theater.

Now?

“A little bang and a little laugh, I can do something like that,” Woods said Tuesday at a press conference ahead of the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.

The old Tiger chuckled at a good (or bad) fart joke. Not at the thought of him playing golf.

We’ll probably see Woods again on the golf courses. He has a standing start time at Augusta National each April if he wants to, and he wants it. But the version of Woods that has mesmerized us for so long is gone forever. Ten months after a car crash in Los Angeles that brutally damaged his right leg, he said on Tuesday that “I don’t expect that leg to ever be what it was.” He was asked when and he kept saying if. He hopes to improve physically until he can play 18 holes, but said “At what level, I don’t know.” It sounded good with that too. The golfer who used to show up at every event saying he expected to win, and who once pissed off his fellow pros by saying he won a tournament with his ‘C game’, left any remaining bravado on the side of that California road.

He always liked to make sure, deadpan little golf jokes, he was happy “I broke 80” after the laps when he was by far the best player in the world. But humor has the residue of honesty now. On Tuesday, Woods said, “The USGA suggests playing forward (tees). I really like that idea now.” He wasn’t entirely kidding.

“To see some of my shots falling from the sky much shorter than before is a small eye-opener,” he said.

He’s gone through the stages of his previous comeback, which was one of the two most amazing in golf history: from not being able to play spinal fusion surgery at all to shooting in the ’60s when practice rounds and the PGA Tour test. to fight in regular events to a major fight to win the Masters 2019, and that was enough to make you believe again, until he said this:

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“I don’t see this type of trend developing for me. ”

Eh.

“It’s going to have to be a different way of doing it,” he said. “It’s okay. I’m at peace with that. I’ve done the climb enough times.

Getting completely honest answers from Woods has always been a challenge. He was notoriously uncomfortable discussing his private life before the whole world even spoke about it. In his heyday, he seemed to resent the media, although he has been shown to be much more comfortable and friendly in recent years. In addition, the qualities that helped him dominate golf were not always true. Tiger always believed he would win, always convinced himself that he could do what probably couldn’t be done and was always convinced, like a great hockey goalie or a cornerback, that he was about to dominate no matter what he just did.

To say that he is no longer convinced misses the point. He can’t really imagine becoming convinced. He doesn’t seem to care if he’s convinced.

Will he play on the Tour again?

“I’m so far from this,” he said. “I haven’t decided if I want to get to this.

He also said, “I had that last major. I checked off two other events along the way.

And There you go. Tiger Woods is going to be a ceremonial golfer if he’s a golfer at all. Maybe one weekend he can pull some magic out of himself and win an event. But it’s so unlikely right now that it’s not really worth discussing.

There are still good questions to be asked, as to why Woods was driving 82 miles per hour in a 45 mph zone when he crashed, and whether the empty pharmaceutical bottle in his bag backpack contained the kind of drug that once sent him to rehab. He pointedly declined to discuss the day of the crash on Tuesday. He said everything was covered in the police report, but it wasn’t. His responses were predictable but still disturbing. We can only hope that he has his illness and his life under control.

But we can also appreciate it for what it is: the end of a singularly spectacular era. Woods played at a higher level than anyone else. Mickelson is the reigning PGA Championship winner, but his victory at Kiawah in May seemed like a farewell: “It is very possible that this will be the last tournament I win,” he said before leaving the course. that night. He is 51 years old. He is ranked 35th in the world but has won just three times in the past eight years. He’s going to give us a few more thrills, but only a few.

Tiger might not give us any. Golf is a game for a lifetime, or almost, so it’s only natural to wonder if the most dominant golfer can come back from a horrific injury, especially when they’ve done it once before. Don’t ask me anymore. It’s a peculiarity of golf that the same week he released a video showing that he was coming back, he told us that he thought he was done. Tiger Woods is telling a truth he never wanted to hear. Listen to him.