If there is one saying that Tiger Woods has stuck by all his career, it’s this one - “I play tournaments to win.” He has said versions of that all his career, leaning on it when things got tough, saying it after injuries and making golf fans believe that if this man is going to put a peg in the ground, he expects to leave with the trophy.
In less than two weeks, Woods will either be on the first tee at Augusta National in hopes of a 15th major championship, or at home resting a bad back that has bothered him all season.
If Woods is playing at Augusta, is he really doing it with the confidence that he can win that golf tournament?
The facts go against him. Woods has never won the Masters when he entered the event without a win earlier in the season. He is coming in with little to no tournament experience over the last month, and if we know anything from Woods it’s that his golf game can get rusty when he doesn’t play in actual events. On top of that, Tiger hasn’t won the Masters since 2005, a stretch that almost seems unfathomable considering how he dominated this golf course earlier in his career.
Woods is not the golfer he once was, and it’s a combination of a lot of things. Tiger has gone through a ton of stuff off the golf course that can make those 10-footers all the tougher, he has gone through swing changes that have done some good and some bad over the years, and he’s battled injury after injury that has forced him to, at times, do different things with his golf swing to offset the pain.
This is not the young man that swung out of his shoes on every tee, this is a guy that has given up on distance in hopes of improving his accuracy. He isn’t one of the longest players in the world anymore even if his physique would tell you otherwise.
The Masters will tell us a ton about the season we should expect from Tiger. It’s the Christmas Day NBA games of the golf season, the first time casual fans start paying attention and the time everyone comes out of the woodwork to put that magnifying glass on Tiger Woods. If he doesn’t win he’s a failure by the public’s opinion, even if that’s a ridiculous notion, and if he plays poorly, or even has to withdraw from the event, it will be national news that will trump whoever ends up leaving Augusta National with the green jacket.
Tiger isn’t just playing for himself anymore or for history, he’s playing for a legacy that could absolutely be tarnished if things don’t turn his way. Another bad week with strained faces from the No. 1 player in the world will bring up more and more questions about the longevity of his career.
Can this body keep him playing competitive golf at the major championships well into his 40s? Is there any chance his back or knee or Achilles will hold up at 46, when Jack Nicklaus won his final major, or 58 when Tom Watson nearly stole the Claret Jug?
These are the questions we have to ask, and these are the questions that will be following Woods up until he announces if he will tee it up at Augusta National.
People keep bringing up this idea of Tiger “giving it a go” at Augusta, but isn’t that completely against everything he has stood for in his career? This is a man that has won so much that even regular PGA Tour titles doesn’t get critics off his back. This is a man that gets a chance four times a year to quiet the crowds, and so far he hasn’t been able to do that since 2008.
The old Tiger wouldn’t just show up to wave and sign some autographs. If he does tee it up on Thursday at the Masters with a back that isn’t 100 percent healed it will tell us as much about what Woods thinks about his golf game as anything he has ever done in his career.