Tiger's torment

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Is the career over for the 15-time major winner? M. James Ward outlines the grim reality the 82 PGA TOUR winner faces and those of his fans who yearn for more.
Posted on
April 25, 2023
by
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Hall-of-Fame NFL coach Bill Parcells was famous for saying about football teams - "You are what your record says you are." Paraphrasing to golf and you are what your scores say you are.

Since his irresponsible car accident in February of 2021, Tiger Woods has played in five events and only finished 72 holes in two of them.

Since winning the 2019 Masters, Woods has not had a top 20 finish in any of the ten majors he's played. In fact, he's missed the cut in four of them and withdrew in two others.

The news last week that Woods underwent corrective ankle surgery signals the high probability competitive golf in 2022 is now over.

The bigger question mark is why Tiger believes playing at the highest level in golf is still doable? Woods has stated previously when he believes he can no longer play at the highest level he will simply stop doing so. Well, memo to Tiger, that day now seems at hand.

Much has been made by a few in the media and other Tiger supporters that it's simply the walking aspect that's the main impediment preventing him from returning to form. Candidly, these same people must be drinking serious Kool-Aid because since the 2019 Masters victory Woods has not shown anything remotely close to the kind of consistent shotmaking needed to compete with the world's best.

The benchmark is not simply making cuts - but actually competing.

Great athletes possess the capacity to push beyond limits others place upon them. Woods has always relished various challenges and throughout his superlative career he was able to not only accomplish what others said was not doable but go even beyond that.

It's not uncommon for athletes at the elite level to take this resolute belief in themselves and believe it can be again summoned when called upon.

Woods has had multiple surgeries over the years and the recent one on his ankle is just another example that while Tiger is chronologically 47 years old his body is much older than that.

When Tiger first came onto the PGA TOUR in 1996 his swing was the poster child of flexibility and strength. The Woods who appeared at Augusta just a few weeks ago featured a swing with limited lower body movement and one dependent on upper body action.

Tigers Torment
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

There have been glimpses of quality shotmaking but the necessary gearbox to produce consistently has been absent. If you want to compete successfully at the world class elite level you need to have the capacity to demonstrate scores in the 60s. That high bar has escaped Tiger because his play has been inconsistent.

Tiger grinded out 36 holes and make the cut at Augusta for a record tying 23rd consecutive time. However, when the weather turned cold and rainy the wherewithal to push matters to conclusion was clearly discomforting to him and necessitated a withdrawal.

Fans still want Tiger to be on the scene competing for titles. However, the Woods we see today is having to work especially hard simply to make cuts.

It's unlikely Woods will announce his retirement from competitive golf because Tiger, like other elite athletes, still believes he can summon one more vintage performance. The reality is that the final curtain call in majors has already come from the awarding of his 5th Green Jacket four years ago.

Woods has always favored being in control of his narrative. Privacy is centermost with Tiger and he's never acquiesced and allowed others the final word.

The rehabilitation process is an uncertain one. Projections range from a few months to the likely reality that Woods may not be on the tee again till closer to the '24 Masters.

 

 

The time clock is one that never stops. No athlete is immune and that includes Woods. But the larger question is when will Tiger come to terms with the reality that returning to the top of the pyramid is just not possible.

Woods has stated on a few occasions he's unable to practice sufficiently for any event given the state of his present body. He also knows that the process of playing 72 holes is also uncertain given the vagaries of weather as happened at this year's Masters.

Woods wants to play, the competitive fire still burns white hot, but it's become clear that when Woods has been paired up with the game's top stars he just can't provide the kind of sustained fireworks previously demonstrated.

At this year's Masters he was paired with Xander Schauffele and Viktor Hovland for the first two rounds and Woods was the main attraction for the gallery but he could not provide enough quality shots to be putting birdie consistently.

The end game for any athlete is a tough journey because there's no perfect way to finish things out. Yes, the ideal way is to do what the famed baseball player Ted Williams did in homering in his last at-bat in 1960.

For others the road at the end becomes a depressing experience. Ceremonial golf was never in the cards for Ben Hogan. He opted to leave the scene. For Arnold Palmer theΒ  adulation of his fans was more important than the substandard play he demonstrated. Jack Nicklaus mentioned his hesitancy to continue as his career waned.

Woods has spoken about the possibility of playing the Champions Tour when he turns 50. Playing at that level has appealed to many former stars because of the longstanding relationships developed when competing on the main stage. There's also the added benefit of using a power cart when competing so walking will not be the issue for Woods that it is now.

 

Leaving the stage and knowing there's no going back is never an easy matter. Some come to terms with it and move onwards. Others take the more embarrassing route as Frank Sinatra did when he continued to attempt singing but often forgot the words to his most famous songs.

The torment Tiger is facing now is realizing his playing days at the elite level are finished. Nonetheless, his records are set in stone. There's nothing left to prove.

Will Woods opt for suchΒ  a formal announcement?

That's hard to say with any certainty. It's possible the '24 Masters could be his final curtain call. It's also possible Tiger will follow Arnie's route and continue to cherry-pick just the majors and work his way to the 50 years of age plateau and then play key events on the Champions Tour.

Golf does not have a post Woods answer. There may never be one remotely close for the foreseeable future. Whatever Tiger opts to do, one should make note of the superlative array of records he set on the golf course.

His mark on the game is indelibly set.

It is we who are in torment knowing the end is sooner than we wish to see happen.

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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