Tiger and Serena Confront Twilight and Aching Backs

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MEDINAH, Ill. – Tiger Woods ran his pro-am game partners on Wednesday at Medinah Country Club when he heard that Serena Williams had withdrawn from a tournament in Ohio because of back cramps. It was the second time in the three-day period that she had to stop a competition. The same injury also forced Williams to retire during the first set of the Rogers Cup final in Toronto.

Woods could relate. He retired for the second round of last week's FedEx Cup playoff opener at Liberty National Golf Club when he woke up after an opening of four-over 75 bothered by a tense oblique muscle that left his surgically repaired back rigid. Five days later, Woods said he felt much better, but as a precaution, he refused full shots during the second nine of his pro-am for the BMW Championship, which starts on Thursday.

Woods, 43 and Williams, 37, are both transplanted Southern Californians who live about 25 miles apart in South Florida, but their bond is more than roots deep. They are groundbreaking, transforming champions who, after having been the face of their respective sports for the past two decades, fight on multiple fronts, against age, injuries and youthful opponents, all juggling parental responsibilities.

"That is why we came so close," said Woods.

Their travels from prodigy children from childhood to parents and icons with one name have brought them along parallel paths. Williams was pregnant with her daughter, Olympia, when she won her 23rd Grand Slam title at the 2017 Australian Open to enter one of career record holder Margaret Court.

Last year after Williams returned to competition after a difficult delivery with serious medical complications, she rode on to the final in Wimbledon in her fourth tournament. Then she made a second final at the United States Open. She lost both but won the eternal admiration of Woods, who said, "It's incredible what she did. To come back and play the way she is, just show you how good she is, how talented she is."

Woods has credited Williams for his inspiration for his comeback of spinal fusion surgery, which he described as "a last resort" after three less complex operations, compiling his own improbable run last summer and finishing second in the PGA Championship and winning the Tour Championship a month later for his first title since 2013.

In April, Woods won the Masters for his first major title in 11 years and his 15th overall, making him within three of the record came – Jack Nicklaus, and afterwards Williams said in a Twitter message that she was literally in tears & # 39; watching Woods, whose performance she described as & # 39; amazing like no other & # 39

She added: & # 39; I am so inspired. Thanks friend. "

Woods and Williams regularly exchange texts. Their friendship has deepened and evolved, Woods said, since their scar tissue began to rise. They are fellow travelers comparing notes about their individual journeys through the same largely unknown territory.

Both have external interests that could happily occupy them. Woods and Williams no longer need titles to feel complete. Woods has its foundation, which finances learning centers throughout the country, and a side issue in course design. Williams has her own fashion line.

They are among the richest athletes on the planet, and yet they were there, Woods in New Jersey, Williams in Canada, trying to compete with pain and failure, but returning days later to try it again as if their next mortgage payment depends on it.

"I think they are putting themselves through because they don't want to abandon people," said the four-fold big winner Rory McIlroy, who knows Woods well and closely observed Williams while engaged to her good ones friend, the tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.

He added: "You get what you give, and I think Tiger and Serena are over. The years have given people so much joy by playing their sport as well as possible. They want to be able to keep doing it, but it is difficult. Time catches up with time. "

Woods and Williams were in their prime & unworldly, seemingly dropped on earth to show us how to play their sport. They won so often that it was easy to take their excellence for granted.

Not anymore The fans who watched Woods walk the back nine of Medinah didn't mind that he wasn't playing. at least for their eyes to honor, cherish and behold, during the course he noted Wednesday where he has won two of his major championships.

"People can relate to vulnerability," McIlroy said. " Serena and Tiger have g shown a vulnerability. Now people see that side of them and it humanises them and it makes them more endearing. "

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