Has Tiger’s Time Passed?

In a provocative column, Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski runs counter to the prevailing wisdom and says that Tiger may in fact be done.

As far as I can tell NOBODY is writing off Tiger Woods. And, frankly, by all the available evidence, we SHOULD be writing off Tiger Woods.

Look: Tiger Woods, by his standards, has played stunningly mediocre golf this year after taking off a few months to deal with his personal issues. He has not won a tournament — entering the British Open he was zero-for-six. This might not sound like much, but Tiger Woods only plays in the tournaments he expects to win. This year marks the first time since 1998 that he has not won one of his first six tournaments of the year.

Anyway, it wasn’t just that he didn’t win, but that he never came close to winning. He missed the cut in Charlotte, at one of his favorite events. He withdrew from the Players Championship with some sort of neck thing that he has barely mentioned since. He finished an uninspired 19th at Jack Nicklaus’ tournament in Columbus. He played stunningly bad and unfocused golf in finishing 46th as defending champ of the AT&T National.

Yes, people will point out that he finished fourth at both the Masters and the U.S. Open, and he did — nobody suggests that Tiger Woods will turn into a 12-handicapper. But even those fourth-place finishes said something was wrong … he was never really a Sunday threat to win either tournament, even though Augusta National and Pebble Beach are two of his favorite golf courses, places he was meant to dominate. Even two or three years ago, people pointed to 2010 as the year for a potential Tiger Woods grand slam because of those golf courses. Finishing fourth at Augusta (where he has won four times and set the course record) and Pebble Beach (where he won the 2000 U.S. Open by 15 shots) is hardly a sign that Tiger Woods is playing well enough.

Posnanski notes that Tiger turns 35 this year—an age when most begin to lose their game. Tiger also has dominated the game for 12 years—a very long time, when put into historical perspective. His putting has gone south, and putting often is the first thing to go.

In Posnanski’s line of reasoning, the last player to so utter dominate the Tour was Tom Watson. Watson ruled golf from 1977 to 1984, when he won his last major. Since then he has little to show. Oh, he still contends, as witnessed in last year’s amazing Open performance. But he isn’t winning. Watson’s bittersweet line: “I had my time.”

So Posnanski thinks that Tiger’s time has passed.

I happen to agree. And I think I can point to the moment when the passing occurred. No, not the auto accident, but last year’s PGA Championship. Then, Y.E. Yang did the unthinkable: he looked Tiger in the face and took him to the woodshed.

I also agree with all of Posnanski’s reasons why. But I would add one more that I’ve been writing about for some time. Tiger is 35 in human years, but he’s closer to 45 in golf years. Nicklaus says that he didn’t play golf until he was 10 and—this may be apocryphal—didn’t play his first full round until he was 13. Compare that to Tiger who has been swinging the club since he was two, shot a 48 over nine holes at age three and who won a tournament at age 8.  Tiger has eight years of golf on Nicklaus at a similar age. So perhaps in terms of wear and tear on the mind and body, Tiger is the equivalent of a 43 year old Nicklaus.

If that’s Tiger’s real golf age, and Nicklaus is the standard, Woods has one more Major left in him.

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7 thoughts on “Has Tiger’s Time Passed?”

  1. Watson does come to mind when one talks about a great player suddenly losing the “it” that made them a winner.  Watson, at 34, won the 1983 British Open and came close in 1984, losing to Seve.  He never won another major and essentially went winless until he won at the Memorial about 10 years later.

    It is hard to imagine Tiger going into a funk like Watson but he sure is doing a pretty good impression of it right now.

  2. Joe Posnanski makes a great argument by using the past to prognosticate Tiger’s demise.  The hole in this argument, however, is whether or not Tiger believes it.  The mind loves to go, and stay in the past and the future.  We can learn from the past, but it is over.  The future doesn’t exist because when we get there it is right now.  There is no one more consistent in staying in the Now (aka the zone) during a round of golf than Tiger.  Even in the throes of his sexual addiction he won two majors and seven tournaments. Tiger said earlier this year he is getting back to the Buddhist practices he admittedly abandoned.
    (Boy did he ever!) Those practices of being in the moment are cumulative and may easily translate into Tiger being not only done, but better than ever.  I am as guilty as Posnanski for embracing Tiger’s past, albeit the positive one, and projecting it into the future.  That said, I see Tiger winning at least 5 of the next 25 majors.

  3. I have put a post in the general golf forum containing two charts I built today comparing Tiger from 19 vs Jack from 20. 

    I will have more to say later in this thread, but I will say this right now—This argument of Tiger vs. Jack I think is the most entertaining thing about Tiger’s golf right now.  There is no right answer and I love to argue.

  4. Certainly, Tiger has missed an opportunity with St Andrews and Pebble Beach.  The Opens will be back in these places again, but it will take some time.  Would Tiger have been able to win without the mess he has made of his life?  I tend to think so.  Augusta also would have been an opportunity, but most of us I think wrote that off with the break from golf he went on.  I DO think that with his finish in the Masters being where it was, that it did seem to indicate that he was capable of winning this year.  I was rooting against him, but also thought with that finish that he wasn’t out.  I am not to where this writer is, but I might be getting there.

    Certainly, what is good to see is that the odds for Tiger are getting more of where they should be.  Would I put better odds on Tiger than any other single golfer?  Yes, I still would.  But last year, we were seeing Tiger with 3/2 or 2/1 odds.  That was insane then.  They started out insane with 4/1 for the 2010 Masters when Tiger had barely played.  I would say they are still too high, but it is getting better @ 7/1 and such.  Lets go for about 10/1 or even better @ 15/1 and we are probably more on the money. 

    I also think Yang was an indication, of what was happening, not the first indication, but one that should have been more clear to everyone.  The cowering in presence of the Red Shirted One has ended.  The youngsters don’t have every bit of Tiger’s ego from that age, but they do have enough ego to think that Tiger Woods is beatable.  That, combined with what I think was Tiger’s first nerves (*I will cover this below) on display last year – has spread almost like a brush fire through the pros.  Anybody can win – just because Tiger Woods is here this weekend, doesn’t mean he already has the trophy – and that belief was missing for so long in the PGA.  Tiger’s performance last year, now combined with his trainwreck of a life and his performance this year has solidified that – that belief that Tiger has won by making the cut, was self fulfilling much of the time.  When a pro who performs well can’t come to the clubhouse without being asked by ESPN, Golf Channel, and CBS/NBC/ABC back to back “How are you going to face Tiger tomorrow?” then the pro goes home with that on his mind, it had to be huge.  To go through those gauntlets now and not be asked about Tiger must be such a relief. 

    * Tiger’s first nerves – It wasn’t just Yang, Tiger lost all four majors last year, while compeletely dominating the tour in every other way.  I think a big part of that had to do with Tiger’s nerves on being within reach of Jack’s record which was the only thing he focused on for so long (only thing in golf he focused on).  Where all these other players focus on a putt worth a million dollars and trying to beat Tiger, he knew he was expected to win and a million dollars is meaningless to him now—but that 18, that was legacy. 

    Also, what about the putter?  Where did that decision come from?  Who is working with Tiger, and is anyone working with Tiger who will be honest with him?  Steve has never appeared to be anyone who will stand up to Tiger or question his decisions (Bones has a problem with that with Phil too) – Haney is gone, but is there anyone at that level who is working at all with Tiger?  It would seem that Tiger really needs either Haney or Harmon at this time, as well as a head doctor, and it doesn’t look like he has any of those. 

    I won’t go as far as saying that is is just one more in Tiger.  It could be none, or one, but I tend to think it will be two or three.  But I do think this has been a plateau, and he will break through it.  And I think it could be one or two in a row when he does.  But each one will get harder, 18 is going to be tougher to break than 15, 19 may be even tougher than that. 

    I think the odds are against 18, but I think he will get 15 and get past 15.

  5. On the physical side of things, I’d give Tiger the benefit of the doubt, given a fitness level that is rare on the PGA Tour.  Woods at “45” may have played a lot more golf, but he’s still probably a better athlete and harder worker than most of those much younger than he is.

    I do agree with the mental part – especially given his obsession with winning majors.  IMHO, if he can’t break through at a major in the next 3 years, he’ll walk away from the game.

  6. “Tiger needs to get his head back.”  at first glance is a concept we all can embrace, but what does it mean?  Butch Harmon said, “In golf the mind is a terrible thing?”  It is not that we don’t need the mind to select the club; create the grip, the alignment, the stance, it’s those unintentional thoughts of the past and the future like: “my game sucks today,” “I should have stayed with the Scotty Cameron,”
    “maybe Steve should give me the line.” that bang into our consciousness and keep us from this moment, the Now, or the zone.  The question is who (or what) knows this?  Tiger’s personal life reflects the reality that he lost his center. In other words, he was not listening to the voice within, the energy within all of us that watches the thinker, the terrible thing that Butch described.  So getting that back is getting more and more in touch with his own energy.  I have found that the breath brings you to that place.  I share an ancient breathing technique that in just a few breaths naturally turns off the mind and turns on the zone.  I expect Tiger is back practicing some form of this discipline.  The more he, and every golfer is in the Now, aka the zone, the more trophies they kiss.

  7. All of the golf analysts say Tiger needs to make swing changes because he is getting stuck or what have you.  This is ridiculous.  When has Tiger ever had the best swing on tour?  Never.  He does not need a Hank Haney guru to make him a winner again.

    Remember that Tiger actually has struck the ball well in this year’s majors but failed to close the deal with the putter. 

    The scary truth is that putting is the first thing to go but I do not believe Tiger’s putting is an issue of age.  Tiger really needs to get his head back.

    The most important aspect of Tiger’s dominance has been his strong mental game.  If Tiger can somehow figure out how to regain his unlimited confidence in himself, his game will follow.  Age will not stop him from breaking Jack’s record.


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