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Keith Strudler: Tiger Surgery

Not to complain, but I’ve got a bad back right now. It’s nothing terrible, but just another reminder that I’m not 25 anymore. And that I shouldn’t carry either televisions nor four year old boys several city blocks.

But fortunately, my job doesn’t depend on my ability to apply maximum torque to my lower torso. In fact, it barely requires me to carry anything heavier than a pencil. So I can keep on just fine with a few ibuprofen and a general avoidance of power lifting. My career can proceed with the same sluggish acumen it has for years.

This is not the case for Tiger Woods. The world’s number one golfer, and it still feels odd to say that, will have to sit out next week’s Master’s Golf Tournament, the first time he’s missed the event in 20 years. It’s because he just had back surgery to relieve a pinched nerve, something that will keep him off the fairways and greens for the next four to five months. This is the latest in a series of physical setbacks for the 38 year old Tiger, ailments coming with increasing frequency as he ages up. These include a bum knee, a hurt achielies tendon, a bad elbow, neck problems, and lingering back spasms. It all makes Tiger sound more like a weekend warrior than once a legitimate choice for the world’s greatest athlete, and certainly the globe’s most dominant duffer. Now he’s just a guy who hopes to get back to his old self after back surgery.

The general prognosis for Tiger is good. According to most accounts, he’s got somewhere in the 90 percent chance of full recovery, although each case is unique. But this surgery doesn’t represent a landmark moment in his physical capacity, like say Peyton Manning’s neck surgery did a couple years ago or Joe Theisman’s broken leg back in the day. As an isolated event, Tiger’s medical issue is a relatively minor affair, even if its timing is remarkably bad.

But, of course, this isn’t an isolated event. Tiger’s surgery happens not in a vacuum, but rather a ménagry of unfortunate events. Instead of indestructible and unbeatable, he’s a guy hoping to make it through the season unharmed. It’s almost like the scene from that sinfully bad movie Rocky IV, where Rocky realizes Dolf Lundgren’s character is human. I won’t go so far to suggest that Tiger was ever thought of as a piece of iron, but he did strike a fairly imposing figure on the golf course, back when he won nearly everything he cared to enter, from the Master’s on down. That was back when we confidently stated he would be the most decorated golfer in history by any measure, especially the common metric of most majors won.

Tiger isn't there yet, still trailing jack Nicholas by four at 14 and holding. He's gone 0 for 22 in that measure since his last major victory in 2008. And he's certainly never regained the public adoration he once had before his personal life unraveled. Whether his back ailment is a metaphor or simply a pain, it's clearly another setback on the road to immortality.

I'm not certain tiger will ever reach that magical major. And honestly, I'm not sure it matters in regard to his place on the list. Tiger has been historically dominant on countless matrix, enough to certainly make the case for ultimate supremacy. Perhaps it's his very athletic style of play that precipitated his break down, stressing joints and muscles like few other golfers could ever imagine.

But what's clear is this. Nothing is forever, and sport, even golf, is ultimately for the young. That's why aging champions are so beloved. Because they're rare, and because most of us realize just how fleeting the moment is. That's what made Jimmy Connors's US Open run at age 39 so special. And Manning's near Super Bowl title this season riveting, converting more that a few fans. And it's why Tim Duncan's post season near miss so remarkable. Because, as anyone of a certain age knows, it's hard.

This will be hard for Tiger Woods, minor procedure or not. He's older, hopefully wiser, and a whole lot less invincible. And the relative kids he's up against are not, ever if Tiger has history on his side. He may be the best ever, Masters or not, but as a lot us know first hand, he's not 25 anymore.

Keith Strudler is chair of the communication department at Marist College and director for the Marist College Center for Sports Communication.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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