No one should tell Woods how to grieve

5/31/2006 - Golf

In the first part of this decade, when Tiger Woods was winning golf tournaments at a record pace, completing the Tiger Slam and garnering every bit of attention in the game, it was easy to forget that his mission was simple: Play golf.

A 20-something bachelor without a care in the world, Woods could devote his entire being to becoming the best in the game. He could eat, drink and sleep golf. It could consume him. And did.

Now, things have changed. Not only is he a married man, but he recently lost the most important figure in his life. Earl Woods, Tiger's dad, passed away on May 3, and while his death was not unexpected, that certainly does not lessen the impact it is likely to have on Tiger.

That is why this is such an interesting time in Woods' career.

He is 30 now, a man contemplating a future and certainly his own mortality. Amazingly, his 10-year anniversary of turning pro nears and surely, the thought has crossed Woods' mind -- whether it be five or 20 years away -- as to when chasing golf titles might no longer matter to him.

Woods surprised some by deciding to skip this week's Memorial Tournament, an event he has not missed as a pro. It figured to be the perfect time to ease back into competitive golf, a month removed from his father's death, two weeks before the U.S. Open.

It would be an opportunity to answer the obligatory questions about his dad, how he has coped, how he will move on. It would also give him the chance to get some competition, his first since tying for third at The Masters in April.

But Woods elected to skip the Memorial, certainly his right. Nobody should be able to tell someone how to grieve, and if Tiger is not ready ... well, let him take his time.

"Obviously Tiger is going to be in the same boat as me every time he goes out to play golf," said Davis Love III, who lost his father in a 1988 airplane crash and won the 1997 PGA at Winged Foot, site of the U.S. Open in two weeks. "He'll think of his father. That's not going to change. It'll be hard for a while, but it will also be a positive for him down the road."

Signs point to Woods' playing in the U.S. Open. He showed up for a practice round at Winged Foot on Saturday after attending a Yankees game on Friday night, his first public appearance since his father's passing.

And while it might not seem like such a great idea to go two months without playing a tournament, these circumstances certainly warrant a free pass. And, if you need any evidence of Woods' ability to bounce back from a lengthy layoff, recall 2003, when Woods returned from a two-month layoff following knee surgery to win his next tournament.

Yes, this situation is completely different. There is a mental component that is unknown at the moment. But it is likely Woods will be ready the first time he puts a tee in the ground.

Nonetheless, it will be fascinating to see what transpires.

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.