By Scott Thornton, Guest Editor
Let’s be clear. Eldrick Woods, famed golfer who introduced millions of minorities to the links and induced sponsors to make good-not-great PGA golfers millionaires for winning one event, was an accomplished golfer for more than a decade.
Trouble is Tiger, at age 39, now plays a game unfamiliar to champions — let alone the man who is second only to golf’s all-time major championship leader Jack Nicklaus. Jack has 18 major crowns and is acknowledged as the best male golfer of the 20th century. Jack is also known for his sportsmanship, wife Barbara and grown children. He seemingly has lived a quality life with few setbacks.
Tiger has 14 major titles, one ahead of the greatest amateur champion Bobby Jones and five more than perhaps the best ball striker of all-time, Ben Hogan. Tiger has well-known character flaws — including a divorce, a fiery temper and a golf swing that continues to be changed because Tiger demands it.
Since his arrival on the pro tour in 1996, Tiger has intimidated foes into folding, claimed 14 major championships and played some stellar golf. Yet he is no Jack Nicklaus in terms of respect or courtesy or class, in my opinion. Tiger retains some of those characteristics because they are fundamental to the game he learne before age five. All golfers know how to say, “Nice round” when a foe beats them.
But he will not reach Jack’s record of 18 majors. In fact, I suspect Tiger’s days of winning another major tournament — Masters, U.S. Open, British Open or PGA — again. Those who continue to believe in a golfer who has failed miserably since 2008 are living in fantasy world. Tiger’s heroics are gone forever — unless someone hands him a major by choking ala Van de Velde. Holding on to Tiger as a great champion is happening because the TV ratings and fans follow Tiger. It’s not because of his level of golf, which appears to be sinking toward an all-time low.
Tiger Woods is approaching a 3-year drought of winning on the PGA Tour and has eclipsed a 7-year gap in winning a major tournament.
As a young professional golfer in the 1960s, Jack looked at legends in the game and immediately saw two weaknesses in himself to improve. His golf game was already major championship caliber as Jack defeated the king, Arnold Palmer, for his first U.S. Open.
Jack sat down and analyed his weaknesses as portrayed on television to the fans of golf across the world. First he smoked on the golf course, which Jack said didn’t look good. He promptly quit and has not smoked another cigarette in public since, to my knowledge. Second he saw an athletic, but overweight golfer sweating greatly on the links. Over time, Jack slimmed down and presented a stronger, slimmer and still athletic image as he continued winning major championships in the 1970s and 1980s..
He saw items to fix beyond his golf swing, and Jack proactively made those adjustments for the fans and for the game of golf.
Tiger has taken a much more aggessive line with his golf game and in life, and some of it has paid off handsomely. In 2000 and 2001, Tiger played some of the best golf seen. He won four majors in a row, holed monster putts and chipped in from mind-boggling positions. Tiger woods was the man, and Nike signed him to an enormous endorsement contract, which still exists today.
However Tiger no longer has 72 quality golf holes in his game to win in hotly-contested events. His Sunday golf has been poor, and his major championship scoring, driving, greens-in-regulation and putting reflect a man who is deluded and no longer confident in his skills
Recently I picked up a golf magazine with a title I am not familiar. Rory McIlroy was on the magazine cover, which asked if the Northern Irish slammer could — with four majors to his name at the young age of 25 — challenge Jack’s career mark of 18 one day. It’s a ridiculous thought until any golfer bests Ben Hogan’s nine victories.
Still the publication using marketing gimmickery selected Tiger to win the upcoming British Open to be played at historic St. Andrews. It’s a location Tiger has dominated for major victories before. So it does present a final quality test for one of the game’s best players.
The way I see it, if Tiger wins at St. Andrews, then he still has enough ability to work toward Jack’s 18 majors. And I will be wrong in my supposed assessment of Tiger Woods. If Tiger makes the cut, there is only an outside chance he will hoist another major title.
And if Tiger falls apart and misses the 36-hole cut as he did with his highest 36-hole total as a professional, he will have confirmed my assessment. And Tiger Woods can either continue to toil toward obscurity as a golfer in decline, or he can quit the game and hope for a transformation in 11 years as tackles the champions tour.
Besides altering his swing and short game, Tiger’s largest fault, in my opinion, coincides with the fall off of his game. The world found out about Tiger’s sex scandal with allegedly more than 100 women caused him physical and psychological injuries in November 2009. Tiger still suffers from the blow to his confidence, intimidating attitude and good image when he realized that nearly every opponent and fan knew his dirtiest secrets. And that confidence has not returned.
Until it does — if ever — the swing mechanics are irrelevant.