Have we ever seen a more shocking example of sporting stage fright?

On the eve of his comeback after 14 months away from the game, Tiger Woods withdrew yesterday from his scheduled return at the Safeway Open in California.

"My health is good and I feel strong but my game is vulnerable and not where it needs to be," said Woods, who added that watching the world's finest players at the Ryder Cup had convinced him he was not ready.

Yet he committed to play at the Safeway event last Friday, fully five days after the Ryder Cup ended. How could he think his game fine then and so vulnerable only three days later, if not for a last-minute attack of nerves?


"After a lot of soul-searching and honest reflection, I know that I am not ready to play on the PGA Tour," explained Tiger, who also announced that he will not compete as planned in the Turkish Airlines Open on the European Tour next month.

Just last week, Swede Jesper Parnevik reported that Tiger was 'flushing it' on the range at the Medalist club in Florida where both are members and predicted a 'spectacular' return.

Now his comeback has been flushed away, to a date unknown, with the only certainty being that it will be more than 450 days since his last tournament before he does play again.

The only possibility before the end of the year - he will turn 41 on December 30 - is the Hero Challenge in the Bahamas earlier that month, an event with a small field that he hosts and where there is no halfway cut.

The stunning development on Monday night was revealed by American reporter Tim Rosaforte on the Golf Channel in the United States. "I'm told that it is performance-related, not health-related, but it still comes as a shock," said Rosaforte.

"It's interesting because he has been practising these last few days at his old college, Stanford, where the golf coach Conrad Ray said Tiger was ready to go. Now this news will come as a severe disappointment to the PGA Tour and the organisers of the Safeway Open."

Actually it will come as a severe disappointment to practically everyone who follows the game worldwide.

Woods has not been seen in action since August 2015 but has been patiently building to a full recovery after three serious back surgeries in 20 months.

He was a visible presence at the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine 10 days ago when he was an assistant captain and spoke of how the event stirred his competitive juices. Last Friday came the news we had all been hoping for, the only news that could possibly fill the huge void that always opens up in golf after a Ryder Cup.

What a return it was shaping up to be. Instead of an underwhelming appearance alongside three corporate suits at the pro-am on Tuesday, Woods was going to play with basketball's MVP (Most Valuable Player) Steph Curry, who would draw almost as big a crowd as Tiger.

Over the first two rounds Woods was going to play with Phil Mickelson, once his bitter rival but now apparently a close friend. Now those Safeway plans, which had seen ticket sales for the event double, have been shelved. "You've got to break the ice some time," said tournament host Johnny Miller, somewhat plaintively.