Tiger Woods must retire; he is no longer a competitive golfer

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Less than a week after carding an 11-over-par 82 at the Phoenix Open, the worst round of his 19-year professional career, Tiger Woods was forced to withdraw from the Farmers Insurance Open through injury, and in doing so provided another reason to suggest the time has come for him to retire from elite level golf.

The 14-time Major winner has now pulled out of three of his last eight tournaments after suffering another back problem on the opening day at Torrey Pines, following a brief interruption in play because of low-lying fog; weather that the 39-year-old blamed for his early exit.

Woods was two-over-par after 11 holes when he decided to end his participation on the par-three 12th, swiftly leaving the course on a buggy after a discussion with his caddie Joe LaCava.

It marked the end of a miserable few days encapsulated by a wretched return to a course where Woods has won eight times before, most notably the 2008 US Open, which incidentally was the last time he laid his hands on a Major trophy.

This latest setback now raises serious doubts about his involvement at the Masters in April, a competition that Woods has already openly admitted he was working towards peaking in Augusta, as he looks to end a seven-year wait for one of the four most prestigious annual titles in the golfing calendar.

2015 marks a decade since Woods' last Masters victory, and it now looks increasingly likely he'll have to wait another year at least before challenging for a fifth green jacket in Georgia - that's if he does decide to continue.

Woods was due to play at the Honda Classic in three weeks time, a tournament he must now win if he is going to qualify for the WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral which begins on March 5. The No.56 in the world needs to rise at least six places in the official rankings to secure what could be another valuable four rounds in the build-up to the first Major of the year.

His current position highlights just how big a fall from grace one of golf's most formidable talents has been forced to endure in recent times, and also shows the speed at which greatness can fade.

Woods was arguably the most dominant athlete on the planet in his prime, but it's been so long since he's played at a peak physical and mental condition that it's become increasingly clear that throwing the towel in is now the only option.

There's simply no benefit in prolonging the agony as Woods continues to muddle through from tournament to tournament, struggling to make cuts and risk tarnishing the reputation he spent so many years trying to build.

It's staggering the number of golfers that have now surpassed Woods, but that's not entirely his own fault, more a result of the modern game catching up with him. When the California native burst onto the scene at the age of 20 he was the only pro working heavily on his strength and conditioning to keep his body in top condition.

However, those small margins that weren't previously being maximised by his peers are now being exploited by all young up-and-coming golfers, and with Woods not getting any younger his sad and sharp decline is being emphasised even further.

He's now at more of a disadvantage than the latest crop of emerging stars, who will have undoubtedly all read, heard - and probably watched clips on YouTube - about how Woods came to transcend the sport, but over the past few years will have seen very little evidence that suggests he was anywhere near the summit, or even more worryingly for him, that he ever will be again.

"It just never loosened back up again," Woods was quoted by the Daily Telegraph telling reporters in the car park in San Diego on Thursday after his latest withdrawal. "When we went back out it got progressively tighter.

"It's frustrating that it started shutting down like that. I was ready to go. We had a good warm-up session the first time around, We stood around and I got cold and everything started deactivating.

"It's frustrating I just can't stay activated. It's just my glutes [gluteus maximus muscles] are shutting off. And if they don't activate, it goes in my lower back. I tried to activate my glutes the best I could but they never stayed activated."

Woods' use of the word "deactivating", defined as 'making something inactive by disconnecting or destroying it' is interesting because the verb used to describe the recurring back injury could also be applied to his career as a whole in the future, as his ongoing struggle for fitness and form risks ruining his legacy.

He entered the Farmers Insurance Open at unprecedented odds of 50/1 to win the event, an embarrassing drop from 2/1 at the same tournament last year which further underlines the fragility of the star sportsman's diminishing status.

The chase for Jack Nicklaus' record mark of 18 Major titles was once a realistic target for Woods. Now it seems like nothing more than a pipe dream.

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