Tiger Woods. (Getty Images)
Tiger Woods is no longer a force in majors, and only those blinded by Nike's Sunday red possibly think differently. Yes, he plays well enough to post multiple top-10 finishes. But he's beyond "good job, good effort" accolades. When you're chasing history, it's win or nothing.
Woods remains, deservedly, the best player in the world. He's won four times on Tour this year, effectively and decisively. But in majors? He's a puppy, relatively speaking. You know the drill: he hasn't won since the U.S. Open in 2008. He's got injuries to his knee and leg and elbow and heart and soul and who knows what else and after awhile, it's all just excuses. The guy's good enough to win tournaments on Tour. The guy's good enough to put himself within strokes of the lead at majors. But closing the deal? That, apparently, is beyond him now.
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Here's the really bad news: Woods' propensity for spiraling in the weekend is getting worse. ESPN's stats report that from 2005 to 2011, Woods was a combined 60 under in rounds three and four of majors. In the seven majors of 2012 and 2013, he's +23. That's an 83-shot swing. Consider, also, his last seven closing rounds in majors: 74, 73, 73, 72, 70, 74, 74. There's absolutely no way to defend that, especially in light of the fact that Woods was, for a time, the greatest closer in golf history.
Woods remains stubbornly defiant. "I'm very pleased with the way I'm playing," he said after the tournament, making the total number of people pleased with him total up to 1. "I'm right there. I hit a ton of good shots this week." There's something to admire about the go-down-guns-blazing approach, detached as it is from reality.
The sad thing is, there doesn't appear to be anything truly wrong with Woods' game. His iron play was almost flawless through the first three days of this week. He putted as well as anyone this week, and he's putted better than most in the past. He's learning to work his driver, or work around it, as he did this week. He still knows how to win.
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That leads to an inescapable conclusion: come major weekends, the world's greatest golfer is faltering between the ears. It's the only variable, the only element that changes once the spotlight cranks up. And how exactly does one reframe one's mindset, particularly if one happens to be famous for world-class mental toughness? That's the challenge ahead of Woods.
There's time, there's time ... Woods has at least another 30 or so majors ahead of him while he's in his competitive prime. But for a guy who's spent most of his life defeating everyone around him, it'd be sadly appropriate if he turned out to be his own worst enemy.
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