No matter what happens, Tiger Woods' legacy is different

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I love legacies, probably to a fault.

They're fun to talk about, fun to dissect, fun to have beers over. They're more fun when they're over -- don't tell me you haven't spent hours on Jack Nicklaus' Wikipedia page -- but for some folks, they become interesting before the end.

The flip side of this is interpreting legacies based on one event, one shot, one week, one day. That's nonsense and should be ignored at all costs. 

But even with that in mind the news that Tiger Woods will miss the 2014 Masters because of back surgery made me realize that his legacy has kind of changed forever in the last six years.

Imagine this scenario: You're 10 years older than you are right now and Woods is putting the finishing touches on a three-stroke victory at Augusta National over Jordan Spieth. It's his 19th major, the record. 

Jack Nicklaus is there decorating him with medals of honor or something and the president of the United States (likely one of the Bush family by then, no?) sends his warmest wishes.

Tiger is a national hero. Golf might just end, actually. Cease to be a sport.

Even if all of that happens there's no way to look at Woods' career without looking at this six year stretch (and counting) of drought.

Even if he gets to 19 we'll say "man, it should have been 25."

That's not to say Tiger isn't a great golfer -- he is and always will be. His position as the second-best golfer ever is secure, I think.

But this valley -- this six-year run of no majors and a seemingly infinite number of injury woes -- has changed the shape of his career forever.

We've always loved Tiger because we could dream on the projection of his career. He was magnificent in the present but he also represented a never-ending future.

Tiger Woods' career has taken a weird turn. (Getty Images)
Tiger Woods' career has taken a weird turn. (Getty Images)

That's over.

I was reading about Tiger's 1997 victory at Augusta recently and it was stunning how willfully he dominated that field. It made you question whether or not he would ever lose another Masters.

That's over, too.

What's left after the Achilles and the elbow and the knee and now the back is a career that goes one of two ways.

Either Woods recaptures the lore of his youth and writes expletives all over the record book once again or the major run is lost forever.

But it doesn't much matter which of those happens because we'll always remember this "however-long-this-stretch-lasts" run as the lost years -- the 40 years of wandering in the desert for Woods.

Of all the great and crazy and wonderful things Woods can do with and without a golf club, he can't stop time and he can't go back and change that part of his legacy.

He said on Tuesday that he's looking ahead to better days.

"It's tough right now, but I'm absolutely optimistic about the future."

What else is there?

For more golf news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnGolf and @KylePorterCBS on Twitter or Google+ and like us on Facebook.

CBS Sports Writer

Kyle Porter began his sports writing career with CBS Sports in 2012. He covers golf, writes poetry about Rory McIlroy's swing, stays ready on Tiger watch and loves the Masters more than anyone you know.... Full Bio

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