​Tiger may have to learn when to leave

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​Tiger may have to learn when to leave
WINDERMERE, FL - DECEMBER 06: Tiger Woods waits on the second tee during the third round of the Hero World Challenge at the Isleworth Golf & Country Club on December 6, 2014 in Windermere, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
WINDERMERE, FL - DECEMBER 06: Tiger Woods wipes sweat away from his face on the third hole during the third round of the Hero World Challenge at the Isleworth Golf & Country Club on December 6, 2014 in Windermere, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
WINDERMERE, FL - DECEMBER 06: Tiger Woods walks off the 18th green during the third round of the Hero World Challenge at the Isleworth Golf & Country Club on December 6, 2014 in Windermere, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
WINDERMERE, FL - DECEMBER 06: Tiger Woods waits on the fifth green during the third round of the Hero World Challenge at the Isleworth Golf & Country Club on December 6, 2014 in Windermere, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
WINDERMERE, FL - DECEMBER 07: Tiger Woods hits his tee shot on the second hole during the final round of the Hero World Challenge at the Isleworth Golf & Country Club on December 7, 2014 in Windermere, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
WINDERMERE, FL - DECEMBER 07: Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker walk together during the final round of the Hero World Challenge at the Isleworth Golf & Country Club on December 7, 2014 in Windermere, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
WINDERMERE, FL - DECEMBER 07: Tiger Woods walks off the third tee during the final round of the Hero World Challenge at the Isleworth Golf & Country Club on December 7, 2014 in Windermere, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
WINDERMERE, FL - DECEMBER 07: Tiger Woods plays a bunker shot on the fourth hole during the final round of the Hero World Challenge at the Isleworth Golf & Country Club on December 7, 2014 in Windermere, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Tiger Woods hits out of the bunker on the 12th hole during the second round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Valhalla Golf Club on Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Padraig Harrington, of Ireland, from left, Tiger Woods, and Phil Mickelson walk off the 15th hole during the second round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Valhalla Golf Club on Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Tiger Woods wipes his face on the 10th hole during the second round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Valhalla Golf Club on Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Tiger Woods hits from the fairway on the 17th hole during the second round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Valhalla Golf Club on Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the ninth hole during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Valhalla Golf Club on Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Tiger Woods reacts to his drive on the first hole during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Valhalla Golf Club on Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Tiger Woods react to a poor tee shot on the second hole during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Valhalla Golf Club on Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Tiger Woods reacts to his shot from the fairway on the 12th hole during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Valhalla Golf Club on Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Tiger Woods warms up on the driving range before a practice round for the PGA Championship golf tournament at Valhalla Golf Club on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. The tournament is set to begin on Thursday. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Tiger Woods chips onto the 16th fairway during the final round of the AT&T National golf tournament at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., Sunday, July 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Golfer Tiger Woods pauses as he speaks at a Quicken Loans National PGA tournament media day news conference at Congressional Country Club, Monday, May 19, 2014, in Bethesda, Md. Woods said his back injury was so debilitating that it caused him to doubt whether he would play golf again. While the surgery he had March 31 erased those doubts, he still has no timetable for his return. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
US golfer Tiger Woods talks about his back injury and the future of his sponsored tournament, now named the Quicken Loans National, during a press conference in Washington, DC, March 24, 2014. Woods, who pulled out as defending champion of the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week with a bad back, appeared at the Newseum to speak about his a new sponsor for his golf tournament that will be played this summer at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, as well as his Tiger Woods Foundation. Woods went on to say that nothing has changed with his back and the Masters may be to soon to return. AFP PHOTO / Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - MARCH 09: Tiger Woods collects his golf ball during the final round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on March 9, 2014 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - MARCH 09: Tiger Woods waits on the 11th green during the final round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on March 9, 2014 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - MARCH 09: Tiger Woods hits his approach shot on the 11th hole during the final round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on March 9, 2014 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - MARCH 09: Tiger Woods reacts to his tee shot on the 12th hole during the final round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on March 9, 2014 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - MARCH 09: Tiger Woods hits a bunker shot on the 13th hole during the final round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on March 9, 2014 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - MARCH 09: Tiger Woods lines up a putt on the first green during the final round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on March 9, 2014 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - MARCH 09: Tiger Woods reaches for a golf ball on the practice ground during the final round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on March 9, 2014 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - MARCH 08: Tiger Woods speaks with the media after a six-under par 66 during the third round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on March 8, 2014 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - MARCH 08: Tiger Woods speaks with the media after a six-under par 66 during the third round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on March 8, 2014 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - MARCH 08: Tiger Woods reacts to a missed putt on the 14th hole during the third round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on March 8, 2014 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - MARCH 08: Tiger Woods hits his tee shot on the fourth hole during the third round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on March 8, 2014 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - MARCH 07: Tiger Woods reacts to a long birdie putt on the fourth hole during the second round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on March 7, 2014 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - MARCH 07: Tiger Woods hits his tee shot on the 14th hole during the second round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on March 7, 2014 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - MARCH 06: Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the seventh hole during the first round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on March 6, 2014 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - MARCH 06: Tiger Woods walks across a green during the first round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on March 6, 2014 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - MARCH 06: Tiger Woods hits a shot on the practice ground during the first round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on March 6, 2014 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - MARCH 01: Tiger Woods plays a shot on the third hole during the third round of The Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa on March 1, 2014 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - MARCH 05: Tiger Woods plays during a practice round for the WGC Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on March 5, 2014 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - MARCH 05: Tiger Woods speaks with the media before a practice round prior to the start of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on March 5, 2014 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Tiger Woods watches his drive from the third tee during the final round of the AT&T National golf tournament at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., Sunday, July 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Tiger Woods stands on the 16th green during the final round of the AT&T National golf tournament at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., Sunday, July 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Tiger Woods takes a drop on the 15th fairway during the final round of the AT&T National golf tournament at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., Sunday, July 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Tiger Woods hits out of a bunker onto the 14th green during the third round of the AT&T National golf tournament at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., Saturday, June 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Sweat drips down Tiger Woods' face as he walks on the fifth fairway during the third round of the AT&T National golf tournament at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., Saturday, June 30, 2012. Golfers were greeted by a second straight day of high temperatures and humidity on the course. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
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By DOUG FERGUSON

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Tiger Woods is no longer being compared with Jack Nicklaus.

Now the reference is to the great Willie Mays falling down in center field trying to catch a fly ball. Or to Joe Louis entering the ring one time too many - and leaving it through the ropes after getting knocked out by Rocky Marciano.

Those were sad moments in sports.

As bad as Woods looked over two days at the PGA Championship, it would be premature to say this was another one.

But it sure looked that way.

Really, was it any worse than three years ago at the PGA Championship?

Woods missed two majors in the summer of 2011 to let his leg injuries heal, the ones that caused him to withdraw after nine holes and a 42 at The Players Championship. He returned to finish 18 shots out of the lead at Firestone and then missed the cut at the PGA Championship by six shots.

He was 35. Now he's 38.

It had been three years since he last won a major. Now it's six.

He had played only one event heading into the final major of the year in 2011, never shot worse than 72 and tied for 37th.

This time, Woods was returning from back surgery that kept him out of the Masters and U.S. Open. He had three starts before the final major - including the British Open. He missed the cut by four shots, had his worst 72-hole finish in a major and withdrew from the final round at Firestone with a different back injury. And then he waited until the last day to show up at Valhalla, played nine holes of practice and couldn't beat five club pros.

Woods said he was pain-free after playing nine holes Wednesday. He said his back was a little stiff after a 74 on Thursday. And he said his back "went out on me" on the range and "I just had to play through it" on his way to another 74.

"I didn't really notice that," Phil Mickelson said when asked about Woods' injury. "I just noticed that really on the greens the ball wasn't going in the hole."

Ouch.

The trouble assessing injuries is that only the athlete knows how bad it hurts. It's even more complicated when the athlete - Woods - isn't forthcoming about it.

Is this the end? Not yet.

But it most likely is the end of Woods as golf once knew him. The end of a guy who once won seven out of 11 majors, and who got to 79 wins on the PGA Tour more quickly than anyone in history.

Woods always talked about his pursuit of Nicklaus and the record 18 professional majors as a marathon. He's approaching Heartbreak Hill with four knee surgeries and back problems that keep cropping up.

Golf is the one sport you can play forever, which makes it the toughest sport from which to retire.

That might be Woods' next big challenge.

Nine years ago in the parking lot at Doral, as Woods was about to embark on his next great run in the majors, he said he wouldn't be on tour forever.

"I'll definitely quit the game earlier than people think," Woods said. "The only reason I would play is the occasional tournament if my son is good enough to be out there, and he chooses to play."

This was four years before his son was born.

"When my best isn't good enough to win anymore, I'm walking," Woods said. "I've won tournaments when I wasn't playing my best. If I play my best and don't win, there's no reason to be out here."

They all say that. But how do they really know?

Football players lose a step. A great hitter doesn't see the ball quite as well.

Golfers don't make as many putts.

"You'll know when I'm not able to produce any more," Woods said that day. "I don't lie. When I play well, I tell you guys. When I haven't played well, I'll tell you."

All he could say Friday afternoon at Valhalla was, "I tried as hard as I could. That's all I've got."

He is four PGA Tour wins away from breaking the record of Sam Snead (82). He is five majors away from breaking the major championship record by Nicklaus (18). Woods has been stuck on 14 majors since 2008 at the U.S. Open.

Woods did win five times last year before back trouble began to take its toll. Don't give up on him just yet. But each year he gets older, and someone new comes along. Rory McIlroy played his first pro event in America the same week Woods returned from reconstructive knee surgery. Jordan Spieth showed up in a big way last year.

It's not getting any easier.

The plan for Woods was to spend his time off getting stronger in his core muscles. Woods talks about not burning the candle at both ends - working in the gym and working at golf. His biggest rival now might be time. Either way, the wax is melting.

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