Tiger Woods' withdrawal from next week's Open Championship has been greeted in the locker room with a mixture of disappointment and concern.
The former world No 1 announced yesterday that he will miss the British major for the second time in four years, although the implications for his future caused just as much consternation.
Woods' absence from Royal St George's wasn't unexpected. The 35-year-old has played just nine holes in 12 weeks because of injuries to his left knee and Achilles and missed last month's US Open at Congressional. Last week Woods admitted his recovery had only allowed him to putt since pulling out of The Players after nine holes in mid May.
"Unfortunately, I've been advised that I should not play in the British Open," Woods said on his website. "As I stated at the AT&T National, I am only going to come back when I'm 100 per cent ready. I do not want to risk further injury. That's different for me, but I'm being smarter this time. I'm very disappointed and want to express my regrets to the British Open fans."
Woods famously won the 2008 US Open on "one leg", when he played with a torn ACL in his left knee, as well as with a stress fracture in his tibia. The resulting ACL reconstruction – the fourth operation on his left knee – saw him skip Royal Birkdale and the USPGA at Oakland Hills as he was sidelined for eight months. This will be the fourth time he has missed a major in his 15-year professional career.
Woods rang Peter Dawson, the Royal and Ancient's chief executive, to inform him of the news. "I know how disappointed Tiger is not to be able to play in the Open this year," said Dawson. "We are sorry that a player of his calibre isn't able to join us at Royal St George's, but we wish him well in his recovery and hope to see him back soon, competing in front of the fans that love to see him play the game."
The R&A will not be too alarmed at his absence. At Birkdale, the 200,000 attendance was as forecast, as was the British TV viewing figures. The US audience may have "dropped off a cliff" but the R&A have signed their TV deals and have the money in the bank. Furthermore, Woods is not the draw he was pre-scandal.
But for the player now ranked down at 17th in the world this is just the latest setback. Since the revelations of multiple affairs emerged 19 months ago which led to his divorce, Woods has failed to win in 23 tournaments and seen his reputation plummet. He dropped heavy hints of a return to form with a fourth-place finish at the Masters in April, but unbeknownst to observers he had sprained his troublesome knee and Achilles while hitting a ball from under a tree at Augusta. The word is that Woods is confident of returning at the WGC event in Akron in four weeks' time – and then playing in the following week's USPGA Championship in Atlanta. But the long-term fears are as inevitable as they are obvious. Padraig Harrington summed up the mood of his colleagues preparing here in Inverness for the Scottish Open.
"It's unfortunate for the game of golf," said the Dubliner, who actually won the first two majors which Woods missed. "He is still the name we all look out for the most. As rivals, it is not that we wanted him to turn up and win next week. But it would still have been nice to have him there and create some of the buzz at the event. Let's hope it isn't that bad. It really is a long time for the injury. Let's hope it fully recovers and he comes back and plays great golf."
In America, Matt Kuchar, the world No 8, offered a contrasting opinion. "I don't think the Open will be diminished," said Woods' Ryder Cup team-mate. "It is a little more exciting when he is around and particularly when he is playing really well but I don't see it as a real loss to the Open. It is still going to be a great event with or without Tiger and is going to have a great champion."
The prevalent view will be that this will put even more pressure on Rory McIlroy. The 22-year-won the US Open by eight strokes, becoming the youngest European major-winner in 139 years, and has already been talked up as a rival of Woods in the major charts. But McIlroy would have been a hot favourite with the bookmakers regardless of Woods and Harrington believes his fellow Irishman could not fit any more on his plate.
Said Harrington: "I think Rory is at saturation point with pressure. You can pour more pressure on him, but he can only take so much. It's just spilling out over the top now."