Tiger Woods’ balky back has forced him out of one of his pet tournaments: The Arnold Palmer Invitational. You have to believe that if there was any way he could play this one, he would. The Palmer is one of a handful of courses which account for more than half his total victories.
I think that this recent back problem is just more evidence of something I’ve been noting since the fire hydrant—injuries are going to keep Tiger from winning Majors.
In 2010, I wrote:
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.
Add a couple more years to to that, and I think it is likely that Tiger is done with the Majors. To that, I’ll add a face-saving caveat: I think it is possible that he still “backs” into one. That is, he manages to play defensive golf on some future Major Sunday when all about him are losing ground. But that’s a far cry from the guy who used to lap his opponents.
Two other things are at work here that would make it difficult for Tiger even without the injuries:
First, the depth of talent on TOUR now is as deep as it has been since I started watching golf. On any given Sunday (and all that), there are twenty guys who could cash the winning check. Tiger can no longer walk over a field of (mostly) lesser talent. When Tiger first arrived, even present and future Hall-of-Famers were stunned by his game. Hello World, indeed. Now, he faces young guys who watched him play as kids. (I sympathize, for I teach with several former students. It is humbling). Those young guys were raised on his game.
Second, Tiger’s Mojo was broken in 2009 by YE Yang. To that time, no one had ever stared down Tiger and walked away unscathed. Yang was the Eastwood to Tiger’s Eli Wallach in that showdown. In spite of protestations to the contrary, reputable, published, peer-reviewed statistical studies have shown that players did indeed play worse when Tiger was “in the hunt” than they would have otherwise. No more. That ship has sailed.
For my part, I wish Tiger well. As a fellow back pain sufferer, I know how painful that is, and the effect it has on the swing. I wouldn’t wish it on my worse enemy.
Ok. Maybe on my worse enemy. And he knows who he is.