It almost seems inconceivable in 2015 that one of the most polarizing athletes in all of sports is a golfer. When listing the sports that matter to the American public, golf would be down there somewhere below NASCAR and soccer and just above tennis. If their lives were on the line it is still unlikely that even the most sports mad American would be able to name the current holders of the four majors (Rory McIlroy x2, Jordan Speith and Martin Kaymer).
Everyone however knows about Tiger Woods.
They know that Tiger burst onto the scene and took the golfing world by storm. They saw him anointed as the greatest player in the history of the game as he dominated competition over a span of about half a decade, a time period before he should have even reached his peak. They saw the endorsement deals raining down on Woods, making him at one point the richest sportsman in history. They saw his race and his background as a way to get more minorities into the sport.
Then they saw it all come crashing down when one car crash revealed the life, and the mistresses, that Tiger had been trying to keep hidden.
There is much more to this story of course. Though this rocked the Tiger PR machine, it is not like the womanizing is the reason why Tiger has not been able to push on and become the golfer that he once seemed destined to be. Even today any time Tiger puts in a good round, even in a low level tournament, talk begins to swell that he is coming back.
Golf could certainly use Tiger being relevant again. At one point he made the final day of any major tournament a much watch spectacle. Unfortunately this has not been the case for a while and it never will be again. Here are 10 reasons why the best of Tiger Woods is not only missing, it is completely dead.
10 Off course issues
In late 2009 the course of Tiger’s career took a turn it has never really recovered from when his off course hijinks caught up with him. While some celebrities have been able to ride out their own scandals, Tiger has been unable to leave his behind. As one of the most well-known, and well respected, faces in the world, his fall from grace was startling. To this day interviewers inevitably ask questions about his personal life and this major distraction has taken its toll on a guy who was once revered for his steely focus on the game of golf.
9 Fan perception
Tiger was never universally loved, but he was universally respected. He spent years crafting this image where fans recognized him as almost a golfing machine who was the single biggest threat to win every tournament in which he entered. You got the feeling that Woods was as comfortable with the boo birds as he was with the rapturous applause with which he was greeted because everyone and everything was focus on the game. Today Woods is an afterthought to casual fans who see him as an average golfer who cheated on his wife.
8 His swing
Those who play golf will tell you that it is much more a battle with yourself than it is with battling other players. Woods was once the master of a golf swing so effortlessly smooth that it put all others to shame. The power he could generate with his patented torque, combined with the unerring accuracy with which he would hit the middle of the fairway was like nothing we have seen before or since. The swing couldn’t last though and it seems like over the years we have heard story after story of how Tiger has modified and fixed his swing with nothing but diminishing returns to show for it.
Golf is certainly a pressure game and it seems that Woods can no longer handle the pressure of the media circus which surrounds him. While he used to have ice water running through his veins on the tee box, he now seems uncomfortable in the public eye. The brash and somewhat cocky persona has gone, but with it Tiger has certainly lost some of the intensity that seemed to deflect pressure off of himself and onto his closest rivals.
6 His short game
If Tiger's swing problems are defined by his age and his injuries then his short game issues are much harder to pinpoint. When Tiger was his most dominant he never seemed to miss a green and any time he pitched to the hole he would kill the ball dead within six feet of the flag. When you add in the fact that he was at his very best when the putts were clutch, then you have a player who is very hard to beat. Today his short game is all over the place. Some weekends he is his old self, others he three putts every hole.
5 Lack of fear factor
When Tiger Woods was at his peak the other PGA Tour professionals were simply terrified of him. Even if he was a few shots down entering a final round Woods would have the advantage as he stalked the players in front of him and ran them down. It was amazing how conservative the likes of Els and Mickelson would become, knowing that Tiger was chipping away at their lead. That fear factor however is no longer there. Woods doesn’t enter the last day of a tournament as the man to beat when he is three or four strokes down as he doesn’t make other golfers alter their game any more.
Tiger does not look comfortable in his game and it shows with his lack of confidence on the course. The old Tiger may have made a (rare) mistake here and there, but he would always recover. A bad tee shot would be followed with a perfect chip and putt to save par, and then Tiger would hit 10 straight fairways to blow away the competition. It was this ability to play himself out of bad rounds which made Woods so dangerous. Today however the opposite is true. Tiger can be in the middle of a good round when a bad tee shot completely wipes out his confidence and takes him out of his game. From that point on the round is a struggle and it can put him out of contention for a championship before the weekend even arrives.
The competition has caught up to Tiger, and has just improved immensely in depth and quality since Woods first burst onto the scene. Once again Tiger is one of the reasons for his own downfall here as the growth of the game which he instigated by being such a transcendent personality has come back to haunt him. When Tiger won the 1997 Masters he pocketed $486,000 of a $2.7 million purse. When Jordan Spieth won the 2015 Masters in April he took home $1.8 million of a purse that totaled $10 million in prize money. Not a bad weekend’s work for a 21-year-old. With that much money in the game is it really any shock that young stars are flocking to golf in unprecedented numbers?
Tiger Woods is an old 39. The years of wear and tear on his body have been anything but kind and as comfortable as a golfer’s lifestyle looks there is still plenty of travel and hectic scheduling involved. The three players who currently hold majors are an average of 25.5 years old. That number is skewed higher by the 30-year-old Martin Kaymer who broke onto the scene much later than Tiger did in his career and thus has less wear on his body. Golf has become a young man’s game and the youngsters are thriving while Tiger fades away. The irony here of course is that Tiger is the one who proved that the younger golfer could compete in this modern era in the first place.
This is tied to a number of the factors already listed, but health is by far the biggest reason why Tiger Woods is done. Woods has had a number of injuries, but the single biggest issue was the ruptured ACL in 2007 that essentially marked the beginning of the end for Woods as a consistent winner on the PGA Tour. Though he had an outstanding bounce back year in 2009, when he won six tournaments, the weakness in the ACL which was caused by the power of his swing has led to a collection of other injuries and ailments. Woods's Achilles have been problematic ever since his knee injury and a surgery in 2014 on a pinched nerve in his back is another nail in the coffin. Nothing is worse on a golfer than back problems, so if Tiger is stepping into that realm then we may never see him win another tournament.