By Steve Keating
LEMONT, Illinois (Reuters) - World number one Luke Donald does not recall declaring the Tiger Woods era over but the Briton did not rule out that possibility after his practice round at the BMW Championship on Wednesday.
Backtracking slightly from comments made recently, Donald said Woods has a steep hill to climb to reclaim the mantle of golf's dominant player but hedged his bet adding that he would not wager against the 35-year-old American winning again.
As Woods's struggles continue, more of his fellow golfers, including U.S. Open champions Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, have felt emboldened enough to step up and declare the 14-time major winner no longer a force to be feared.
"Whether the Tiger era is over, I don't know," Donald, told reporters. "I don't recall ever saying Tiger era is over.
"Obviously there's a lot of great young players coming up and showing a lot of talent but certainly I would never be naive enough to write Tiger off."
While Woods's future is open to speculation there is little doubt his era at the Cog Hill Golf and Country is over.
A five-time winner of the BMW Championship, Woods is not here this week after failing to qualify for the season-ending FedEx playoffs and, with the event not scheduled to return to Cog Hill, is unlikely to ever be seen again on the suburban Chicago layout.
Woods has been a shadow of his former dominant self since the end of 2009 while trying to rebuild his golf swing and private life following the breakup of his marriage.
His world ranking has slipped to 46th and he has not won a tournament since the 2009 Australian Masters.
"I've certainly said in the past, I think it's tough to come back from physical injuries," said Donald.
"I've had some and obviously being away from the game for so long, it's certainly not going to be easy for him to get back to where he was."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)