Maybe we were just focused on the wrong body part.
Ever since Tiger Woods' SUV veered off course at the end of his driveway in Florida nearly six years ago, the questions have been about his head. And all the while, it's the rest of his body — the left side mostly — that's been breaking down before our eyes. Maybe, like Icarus, it turns out Woods just wasn't built to go the distance.
He broke into big-time golf at 20, thin as a 2-iron and swinging with all the abandon of a kid. He putted without nerves, hit the ball farther and passed so many career signposts so breathtakingly fast, and with such ease, that his future seemed to be on cruise-control already.
But Woods is 38 now, and despite sparking the fitness craze that revolutionized professional golf, he's falling apart like a used car.
Woods announced Tuesday he would skip the Masters for the first time in his career to begin yet another rehab from the latest of at least a half-dozen surgeries. For all the comparisons to Jack Nicklaus, in light of this latest breakdown, it might be more apt to look at Mickey Mantle.
A chain-reaction series of injuries hobbled the Yankee slugger through the final few seasons of a career that should have been even better — not to mention longer. Mantle's bad luck, as one writer memorably put it, was to be "a million-dollar talent propped up on dime-store knees."
At this point it's worth noting that Mantle had a drinking problem. And that he contributed to his own demise as a ballplayer by staying out late too many nights, something to which Woods has already pleaded guilty. But the way the injuries dogged Mantle at the end, sapping both his power and speed, may turn out to be the more instructive parallel.
Woods' latest surgery, called a microdiscectomy, was to relieve the pain from a pinched nerve in his back. Problems with his back first surfaced last summer, then resumed this spring, culminating in Woods' withdrawal from the Honda Classic and a final-round 78 a week later at Doral, where he looked visibly weakened.
A bad back is worrisome enough. That it arrives at the end of a string of injuries to Woods' left leg, knee and elbow, as well as both Achilles tendons — and almost all within the last half-dozen years — makes you wonder whether it's part of a larger pattern.
In a statement on his website, Woods called the setback "frustrating" but "something my doctors advised me to do for my immediate and long-term health."
The website also pointed out that swinging a golf club could have caused the pinched nerve, and as anybody who's ever swung one for a couple of rounds can attest, it can damage plenty of other body parts as well.