I think that everyone soon may have to accept the notion that Tiger Woods will never be the same. When his troubles first began a year ago, pundits said he soon would get his game back on track—and pointed to early success at The Masters as evidence. But as the summer continued, he showed only fleeting signs of his former greatness. Tiger’s season mostly was a matter of a good round here followed by a mediocre or bad round there. That’s the work of a PGA Tour journeyman, not a golfing master.
In the last PGA Tour event of the season, the HSBC Champions, Tiger managed to struggle to a tie for sixth, but a full eleven shots behind Eduardo Monliari. And most recently, he finished fourth in a field of four in a skins event in Thailand. That wasn’t exactly an all universe field, consisting as it did of Camilo Villegas, Paul Casey and Thongchai Jaidee. Tiger managed to win just one of eighteen holes.
I’m gong to go out on a limb and say that Tiger’s days as the World’s Best Player are over (but I’ve been saying this for some time). This is not to say he won’t win the occasional tournament. He may even win another Major (I think another Masters is likely). I’m just convinced that Tiger’s days of dominance are over. You simply can’t win big tournaments with an irregular game. I’m not convinced his regular game is ever coming back.
There’s much precedent for such a fall from the grace of the golfing gods, both recent and historical.
In 2001 David Duval won finished second at The Masters, won the Open Championship and was on top of the golfing world. Then several physical (some say mental) ailments led to a crash as spectacular as any ever seen. In recent months, he has shown flashes of the old Duval—even finishing second at a US Open—but he just doesn’t seem to be able to put together four consistent rounds. Ernie Els is another example—not quite the same since the freak boating accident tore his knee. Sergio Garcia—once a contender—has so lost his game that he was reduced to cheerleader at the Ryder Cup. And then there’s Ian Baker-Finch . . .
Most of the greats had but a brief period of glory—a natural ebb to a player’s golfing tide. Nicklaus, ever the standard, won his majors over 17 years, not including his improbable 1986 Masters. Ben Hogan had an eight year Major lifespan (though you have to give consideration to the injuries). Hagen won all of his over fifteen years. Gary Player, the ageless wonder, spread his victories out over eighteen years. Arnold Palmer won all of his Majors over a seven year period. Sam Snead—another ageless wonder—won his over twelve years. Gene Sarazen had thirteen years of glory. Lee Trevino put it all together over seven years, with an outlier ten years later. Faldo also ruled for seven years.
Tiger’s span has been 13 years—longer than all but Nicklaus, Hagen and Player. That’s a long time to stay at the top of any athletic endeavor. Even without his personal failures, Tiger was aging, his knees going gimpy and his killer instinct fading. In 2009—though perhaps with the weight of his sins on his shoulders—he was just a little better than ordinary, with a second, two T-6 and a cut in the Majors. We all know the story in 2010.
Tiger’s next outing is the Australian Masters, where he is reigning champion. That’ll be Nov. 11 – 14. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares.