The clearest sign I have seen that Tiger Woods knows his career is in peril did not come with Friday’s news that his balky back will force him to miss his next two scheduled tournaments.

It is highly disappointing that one of those events is next week at Riviera Country Club, a course Tiger loves but has never conquered. And hasn’t played since 2006.

The clearest sign did not manifest with the 76-72 he posted at the Farmers Insurance Open, or the WD after shooting 77 last week in Dubai. It did not come from his latest narrative-controlling, website post about his lingering spasms.

Oh, those are incriminating signs all right.

The clearest sign to me, though, was caught on television after Woods’ missed the cut at Torrey Pines. The jaw-drop indicator was Tiger Woods standing in a rope line, patiently signing autographs for dozens of kids.

This was NOT Tiger of old, the rock star who exited golf complexes the way Elvis left arena halls.

While watching Tiger on TV, finally giving back to his community, it hit me: Tiger Knows. He knows, at 41, that he might never get back to the standard he set. He knows, after playing with bombers Dustin Johnson and Jason Day at Farmers, that he can’t compete in the same way.

Tiger realized that, while he may play well again, he can’t reach the scorched-earth level that allowed him to operate, obliviously, to everyone around him—even his most adoring fans.

Woods was so good, so rich, so dominant that he didn’t have to indulge in the public relations side of things. He, and his game, were above the fray. It wasn’t that Tiger didn’t give back. He founded a learning center and put his name to a lot of worthy causes.

But, never, in a personal way that would let you anywhere near his inside world.

I covered, for the Los Angeles Times, a lot of Tiger Woods in his prime, from his wipe-out performance at Pebble Beach, in 2000, to his incredible U.S. Open win at Torrey in 2008.

I was inside the ropes at Bethpage Black in 2002 when Tiger, in near total darkness at the end, tamed that public-course beast. And in Augusta, in 2005, when he beat Chris DiMarco in a playoff after rolling in his shot-of-the-century at No. 16.

I was even at Riviera in 2006, the last time Woods played in the ever-changing sponsored tournament long known as the Los Angeles Open.

I have seen Tiger do many great things.

The one thing I never saw him do was sign an autograph. The rest of this article is available to subscribers only – to become a subscriber click here.