April 27, 2011
No, this isn't an article written solely to get views and reactions. I've seen those pieces before. I hate those pieces.
This is simply a story written by a golf fan (me) to golf fans (you) about a guy we've either loved or hated for a number of years. Most of us, even if we don't like to admit it, love Tiger, despite whatever has happened over the past two years. His ability to do things on the golf course wowed fans, commentators, other athletes, and even his fellow competitors, and it seemed that what he was doing in the early part of this millennium would never stop. He was too good.
But we need to visit a few truths about Tiger Woods.
First, in the last three seasons, Tiger has gone down with fairly serious injuries twice. Since the first one, Woods has failed to win a major, and now it seems he has tweaked something else in the part of the golf swing that stabilizes it, and no matter what you say, an injury is hard to push out of your mind. When I was in high school, I had a cyst in my wrist, and even when it wasn't aching to the point where I couldn't swing, it was in the back of my mind, and probably was one of the reasons I didn't pursue a college golf path. The same might be said about Tiger. Once a player that would take on any golf shot, the 35-year-old Woods could now hold back on golf shots that are going to put a ton of strain on his knees and ankles.
Second, he's been beaten ... a lot. This isn't just a case of Y.E. Yang and Graeme McDowell, we are talking about a guy that everyone built up to near Zeus level and then beaten in the middle of town square by just about everyone not related to him (and some that were). This is a guy that was as polished as his Nike spikes since he was 3, and then the other side was shown and everyone didn't know what to do. Most were disappointed. A lot gave up on him. If you've ever dabbled in the comment section here you'll see a ton of hatred pointed directly at Eldrick. People never hated this guy before. He was the star of this sports generation. More than Kobe, LeBron, Peyton and just about anyone else you can name, Tiger was the face of my sports world growing up. Now, he's been revealed, and it hasn't been pretty.
Third, and this one is extremely important to grasp ... Tiger isn't playing well enough anymore to do what he used to do in major championships. Win, you ask? No, not win, but put himself in a position to cruise to a win. It has been noted a ton of times that of the 14 major championships Woods has claimed, none have been from behind. He has always had the lead heading into Sunday and all but once, was able to close (that time being against Yang). Eventually, if Tiger is going to catch the legendary number of 18, he is going to have to win a major coming from behind, and for some reason, that doesn't happen with Woods. Maybe he's pressing too hard, or putting too much pressure on himself when he knows he has to go out and go low, but on Sundays, when he has to be the guy chasing the field, he can't do it. No golf tournament has this been more evident than at this year's Masters. Tiger played the front nine, the nine at Augusta that he hasn't always played super well, as good as he could have, and as he turned, you thought that 12-under was the worst he could have posted. Tiger got himself in the position he needed to be in with some incredible golf shots on the front nine, but the relatively easy ones, like the two-putt on No. 12 and the second shot into 13, weren't executed. Honestly, they weren't even close (to three-putt on 12 and miss the green on 13 is inexcusable, almost like Michael Jordan missing both free throws in a Game 7 when just one would have sent the game to overtime). Tiger needs to find a way to win a tournament like Jack Nicklaus did in 1986. For his sake, and the way his game is right now, that's probably how his next victory will be. He will be a couple of shots back, go out on Sunday and post a great number, and then let the field fall back to him, but at this point, even that seems unlikely (a combination of Tiger's inability to close right now and the talent of the PGA Tour never letting up).
So we have a 35-year-old injured golfer that hasn't won a marquee event since August of 2009 and now is going to take more time away from tournament golf to heal his injury. It doesn't exactly scream "this guy's on the cusp of being great again." What if he never gets back? That's the million dollar question, and all the talking heads seem to dismiss it, but would you be willing to wager $100 on the fact that Tiger wins two more majors? Would you bet $500 on Tiger catching Jack's major total? At this point, I sure wouldn't.
Tiger has hinted at a return, and moved the needle a few times, like the front nine at the Masters, but to be fully back, Woods is going to have to do something special, and right now, it sure doesn't seem like that is anywhere close to being in the forecast. And that's disappointing. Personally, I miss the old Tiger. He made golf fun to watch, he showed us things we could never do, and he got the world talking about golf like nobody else can. If he doesn't do something soon, a lot of us might truly forget what that was like, and that is a scary thought. I really hope I'm wrong.