OPINION: Stern: Tiger's withdrawal from Masters a reminder of unceremonious career endings

Tiger Woods
Photo credit Patrick Smith / Staff / Getty Images

When the ending of anything is vastly approaching -- in a career or lifetime -- rarely are people able to go out on their own terms. It's no surprise this is the case, considering it's difficult for anyone to acknowledge the ending is near. And as Tiger Woods' storied career drags toward a disappointing conclusion, it's evident that his final saga will leave a bitter taste in golf fans' mouths.

The passing of the baton from a 47-year-old in Woods to 28-year-old hot-shot Jon Rahm -- the 2023 Masters champion -- didn't happen in the graceful way that fans could've expected. Instead, Rahm's rise felt more like an overtaking that began in 2017, when he hit a 60-foot, highlight-reel putt on the final hole at the Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm's stardom reached its apex on Sunday, when he outlasted stars Phil Mickelson and Brooks Koepka by four strokes.

Rahm's ascension bears resemblance to Woods' rise to sports superstardom. Rahm has celebrated five worldwide wins in his last nine starts, including the Sentry Tournament of Champions, Genesis Invitational, and now the Masters. As for Woods, he captured his first Masters at age 21, ranked first in the world just one month later, and won eight tournaments in 1999 -- including the PGA Championship -- while signing huge endorsement deals with Titleist and Nike. And although Rahm's first Masters victory came at age 28, his impressiveness as a fast riser in this ultra-competitive sport is strikingly similar to Woods'.

Woods' backstory obviously involves a comeback element, considering he's endured a number of struggles, both on and off the course, on the back-nine of his career. And for someone who's experienced the exhilarating highs and devastating lows over two-plus decades as a professional golfer, Woods has a redemption story that's easy to support.

However, after withdrawing from the Masters on Sunday due to injury, it's fair to wonder if closing the book would've been a more desirable outcome than trying to write the final chapter with a very low chance for success. His injury history and ugly third round at Augusta this past weekend left a lasting image in the minds of sports fans rooting him. So much so, that even Wood's most loyal supporters would likely prefer to see him put his clubs away, for good.

Tiger Woods
Photo credit Patrick Smith / Staff / Getty Images

Even after being knocked off the king's throne, only to find himself scrapping for rags at the bottom, Woods is no longer playing for fame or money. At this stage, it's all about playing for love of the game that's defined his identity for the majority of his life. And as long as Woods feels able to hit the range, he'd prefer to squeeze out every last ounce of enjoyment the sport can offer him, before he's relegated to watching old videos of what he once was.

The strategy, while understandable, is faulty due to the mark it'll make on his legacy. Woods is one of the greatest golfers of all-time -- nothing will change his standing. What will be impacted, though, is how he's remembered on the backend of his career, and the manner in which he went out.

A decade from now, once the negative visions start to fade, there'll be several positive memories of Woods' rapid climb and dominance for the better part of his career. For the time being, however, it’ll be difficult to ignore Woods being forced out, unable to ride off into the sunset on his own terms.

Much like NFL legend Tom Brady, who was essentially forced into a retirement announcement this past winter, the grand finale just didn't live up to the hype. And if Woods is going to replicate anything from his quarterback counterpart, he should want to step away on a somewhat respectable note, before things get more ugly. For the rest of his life, Woods might never lose the itch to play. But, it'd behoove this Tiger to roar in some other fashion, rather than drag out his golf career with adversity dominating the spotlight.

Jack Stern is a columnist, anchor, and associate producer for CBS Sports Radio. You can follow him on Twitter @J_Stern97.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Patrick Smith / Staff / Getty Images