Tiger Woods concedes chase for Nicklaus, sounds near end of career

Nobody really knew what Tiger Woods was going to talk about at his press conference on Tuesday promoting the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. Probably some cliched quips about getting his feels back and getting ready for the Masters in April.

Instead, we got the saddest version of Woods we've ever seen.

He talked about there being "no timetable" for a return. He talked about how his exercise these days is just walking. He talked about how he plays video games just to pass the time. 

"There's really nothing I can look forward to, nothing I can build towards," said Woods. "It's literally just day by day and week by week and time by time. Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? I don't know."

Woods said he didn't know whether he'd be surprised if he wasn't back playing golf a year from now. That was one of the most unsuspecting but telling things he noted.

We knew after Woods' second (and third) back surgery earlier this fall that the road back would be even longer than it was after his first in March 2014. What we didn't anticipate is how downtrodden a sweaty, uncomfortable Woods would be on Tuesday.

It was honestly a little bit difficult to stomach. Woods was even asked about someone whose career he has mirrored, Kobe Bryant, who recently announced that he would retire at the end of the 2015-16 NBA season.

"The body can only take so many jumps," said Woods of Bryant. "It takes a toll."

Woods could have been talking about himself as he discussed Bryant. Retirement has never seemed closer for the 14-time major winner. Even throughout the last year and a half of rehab and working his way back towards the top of golf's food chain, he was always ridiculously optimistic. So optimistic that we chided him for it.

Then he went out at the Wyndham Championship and nearly won the thing. He proved us all wrong. That Wyndham Championship was where I thought the script was going to flip again. He called it his best moment of 2015. No, Woods would never what he used to be. But he would be that wily old cat who picked his spots and showed you flashes of his old magic. The magic he used to consistently unleash week in and week out on the PGA Tour.

But then, Woods had another back surgery. And another. We figured he would bounce back, optimistic as ever. That's who Woods is after all -- on the course and off it. At least, it's who he appears to be in his press conferences. He never concedes. He never gives in.

Woods has never once insinuated during his career that he would fail to catch Jack Nicklaus and his 18 major championships. Even when it seemed bleak, Woods was right there charging on towards the Golden Bear. He built his entire career around the idea that eventually he would be the greatest (and most accomplished) golfer of all time.

Until Tuesday when, from an island off the southeast corner of Florida, Tiger Woods pulled a white flag out of his back pocket and sat it on the table. He picked it up and looked at it. He set it back down. 

"I think everything beyond this will be gravy," he said. "If that's all it entails, then I've had a pretty good run."

All that's left is for him to wave.

Tiger Woods isn't coming back soon. (Golf Channel)
Tiger Woods isn't coming back soon. (Golf Channel)
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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