A recent Golf Channel poll reveals that top instructors are finally catching up to your friendly neighborhood GolfBlogger: 57 percent say that Tiger will not win another Major. Just two percent think that he will eclipse Nicklaus’s record.
“No more Majors” been my prediction since YE Yang caught him from behind at the 2009 PGA Championship. I’ve suffered a lot of mockery for that prediction. But even Tiger’s apparent resurgence in the five-win 2013 season did not dissuade me. No one is laughing now.
Before the 2009 PGA, Tiger was 14-0 when he was on top of the leaderboard heading into the final round of a major. Further, he had never lost on American soil when leading by more than one shot.
In one fell swoop, Tiger’s aura of invincibility was shattered. Yang told everyone else on the PGA TOUR that they did not all have to fight for second place just because Tiger was in a field. Yang stole Tiger’s mojo.
I think that there are several factors at work here:
The first is that the talent pool is very, very deep at this point. There are so many players in their twenties (and early thirties) who have the talent to win Majors that it is hard to guess who might be the next to break through.
Second (and this is related to the first), Tiger no longer has the distance advantage he once enjoyed. At one point, he was bombing balls fifty yards past his competitors. Now there are guys who can drive the greens on the par fours where Tiger was hitting driver-wedge. Tiger’s current PGA TOUR driving distance average is 294. Bubba Watson’s is 315. Five foot nine inch, 150 pound Rickie Fowler hits it 306.
Third (again related to the first), Tiger can no longer intimidate players into making mistake in his presence. There once was a literal “Tiger Woods” effect, in which golfers played worse than average when Tiger was in the field. To Tiger’s great advantage, the effect actually was stronger among the better players. I don’t know if it has been studied recently, but I’d guess that advantage hasn’t been in effect recently.
Finally, I have long thought that Tiger’s body would not stand up to the rigors of his swing and training. He had been playing competitive golf since he was in grade school. That just had to take its toll. It has.
At this point I’ll return to another prediction I made long ago on these pages: that Tiger’s retirement from full time golf would come much sooner than most would think, or hope. I just can’t imagine that such a fiercely competitive player, accustomed to the highest levels of performance, would settle for journeyman status.
I’ll end all of that with my usual caveat, though. I think it is just possible that Tiger “backs into” another Major. I can Tiger finding a groove on a final day at a Major, when everyone else is faltering. Tiger finishes one under while everyone else is above par. The US Open, perhaps. Or a bad weather day at the Open Championship.