Is Tiger set to retire?

When Tiger Woods addressed the media ahead of the Hero Honda Challenge on Tuesday there were a number of indications that retirement may be on the horizon for the former world number one, no more so than his comments on NBA great Kobe Bryant's impending retirement.

On Sunday, Bryant confirmed that he would be calling time on his playing days at the end of the current campaign, ending a 20-year career.

The last few seasons have been tough for Bryant; he's struggled with injury and his play has suffered. The Los Angeles Lakers legend will limp somewhat to the finish line, with the past three years taking some of the gloss off his illustrious career.

There are definite parallels to be drawn between Bryant and Woods.

"Twenty years in the NBA is more than 20 years in most sports," Woods said of Bryant.

"At [Bryant's] position – I mean he was a flyer – you only have so many jumps in the body, and on top of that only so many landings. The last three years he's gone through some pretty tough injuries."

Bryant's struggles over the past few seasons have carried into the current campaign where he averaged 15.7 points on a career-worst 31.5 shooting percentage at the time of his retirement announcement. Bryant’s field goal percentage and 19.5 three-point percentage saw him ranked last on the current list of qualified NBA players. It's brutal for a man who is considered a basketball great.

Woods' record over the past two years is equally bleak. He played just 11 tournaments this year, and missed the cut at three of the four majors. Last year he appeared in just nine events after he missed three months of the season after undergoing back surgery for the first time in March. The past season was his worst as a professional.

The 39-year-old is currently ranked 400th in the world, yes 400th. He's sandwiched between Sungjoon Park and Vaughn Taylor. Park is a 2014 Web.com Tour graduate who only has one career victory, while Taylor hasn't won on the PGA Tour in more than a decade.

Woods added of Bryant: "But other than the last three years, this guy was as durable as durable gets. And on top of that, he played both ends of the court. He played two Olympic teams, all the qualifiers – the guy played a lot of basketball. Five rings, maybe seven Finals, something like that."

There isn't much that Bryant hasn't achieved, both personally, and with the Lakers and the United States.

He has two Olympic gold medals and helped the Lakers win NBA titles in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010. He is third on the all-time NBA scoring list, he notched up the second-best individual performance in an NBA game when he scored 81 points in one game in 2006, and for the Lakers he is in the top five for career rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, free throws and, three-pointers, among others. The man is a legend.

Similarly, Woods will – regardless of whether or not he ever gets back on the course – be remembered as one of golf's greats.

We could spend all day listing Woods' achievements, but they're well known, so here is a highlights package: 14 major titles (second only to Jack Nicklaus), 79 titles (second only to Sam Snead), the youngest player to achieve a career Grand Slam, and he holds the record for both the most consecutive weeks as world number one and the greatest total number of weeks at the top.

Woods continued his discussion of Bryant: "You add up all those games, it takes a toll on the body and eventually it just doesn't heal any more. 

"And that sport is so fast and so athletic and so quick – it's just tough. It's been tough to watch him go through the season he's had and it's understandable – he's been in there for 20 years." 

While some have delighted in Woods' fall from grace off the course and struggles on it, most golf fans will admit that it's been tough to watch Tiger toil in recent years. 

At this year's Open, Paul Azinger delivered a brutal assessment of Woods. "It's hard to watch the greatest player of his generation be a middle of the pack hack," said Azinger. Few could argue.

Azinger added that Woods' talk of being close to getting his swing back to where it was made him seem "delusional". On Tuesday, perhaps for the first time in many months, Woods did not sound delusional. The question now appears not to be whether he is delusional, but whether he is defeated.

So will Tiger call time on his career? A case can be made for both 'yes' and 'no'.

I don't expect to see Tiger playing just for the sake of hanging on, picking up appearance fees, turning up at Augusta and maybe making the cut, maybe not. Tiger is the fiercest of competitors, and if he can't compete will he continue? I don't think so.

But Tiger is also fuelled by tremendous self-belief and, if things start to improve for him physically, he will believe with unwavering certainty that he can continue to win big events. It's a big 'if'.

It's easy to get carried away though. Woods underwent surgery first in September, and then again in October. It would be foolish to have expected that he would definitely be back at the driving range by now, gearing up for a return early next year. It will be a long road back for Tiger, and it's one I'm not sure he will walk. I hope he proves me wrong.

James Ho

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