Memo to Tiger – There is no tomorrow

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M. James Ward outlines the reality of what Woods faces and the tight rope he walks between being hopeful and hopeless.
Posted on
June 15, 2024
by
M. James Ward in ,
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

PINEHURST, NC. In the movie Rocky III, Sylvester Stallone (Rocky) is sparring with Carl Weathers (Apollo Creed) in anticipation of a rematch with the new champion Clubber Lang. Rocky is being pummeled by Creed and offers no resistance. Rocky meekly offers he will be ready -- "tomorrow."

Creed's retort is brutally succinct – "there is no tomorrow."

Tiger Woods still believes he is capable of winning at the highest of levels. That there are still tomorrows for him to again win.

When Tiger Woods came to Pinehurst for the 124th US Open Championship the anticipation of the moment was palpable for him personally and for his fan base in North Carolina and elsewhere. His Pinehurst arrival was his first US Open competitively since last playing in the event in 2020.

Flashbacks emerged from 25 years ago when Woods made a serious push to win his first US Open only to fall back late in the final round and see Payne Stewart epically sink an 18th hole putt to claim the title.

Six years later the US Open would return to Pinehurst and again Woods was in the mix when only two late final round bogies dropped him behind eventual winner Michael Campbell.

In 2014 he did not play in the event at Pinehurst. In fact, Tiger's return to Pinehurst this year came about only because of an exemption provided to him by the USGA.

But the reality of the situation today is that Woods is far removed from the days when his presence alone would rattle fellow competitors because they knew full well what he was capable of doing then. Tiger remains highly respected by those competing now – but for past accomplishments.

Woods scored 74 in his opening round and followed that with a 73 to miss the cut by two shots. In his post round news conference following Friday's play Woods was adamant his score was as high as he could have scored.

“Well, it was probably the highest score I could have possibly shot today,” Woods said. “I hit a lot of good shots that just didn’t quite go my way, or I hit good putts, and then I put myself in a couple bad spots with some bad lag putts. But again, as I said, it was probably the highest score I could have shot today.”

The inability of Woods to be a factor comes from multiple surgeries on his 48-year-old body combined with a lack of competitive rounds and practice time.

Prior to this year's US Open - his last two events were the PGA Championship at Valhalla where he missed the cut and at the Masters. At Augusta he set a record for most consecutive cuts made – but his final 36 holes were nothing short of abysmal scoring 82 and 77 for a last place finish.

Undoubtedly, Woods still claims he can be a factor when elite level golf is played but the statistical reality says otherwise.

Tiger Woods has missed the cut at the US Open
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

His last win came in 2019 when he miraculously came from behind in winning his fifth green jacket and 15th major title at the Masters.

Since that win Woods has played in thirteen majors. He has missed the cut in six of them - and has not finished within the top 20 in the remaining ones.

Bill Parcells, the former two-time Super Bowl winning coach and Hall-of-Famer was most telling when assessing the state of a football team. "You are what your record says you are." For Woods, he is what his golf scores say he is. During his peak years, Woods excelled in turning what could have been a 74-75 into a 70-71 and keep himself in the thick of things.

Grinding was an art form for Woods then – today it has become a chore and one in which he professes to be ever so near to being able to win again.

Tiger's time now is split with his participation as a player director on the PGA Tour policy board. There's a major emphasis in securing a deal between the PGA Tour and the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF). There's also a push from the PGA of America for Woods to serve as captain of USA Ryder Cup team in 2025 at Bethpage.

Woods also has two children now in their teen years. Spending time with them is a critical emphasis for him.

The Tiger Woods brand still resonates globally. No single golfer has ever commanded the presence he does and the crowds that followed him at Pinehurst were poised to support him especially after Woods birdied his first hole of play during Thursday's opening round.

While Tiger's fame may be forever - his golf game is not.

The collective toll from the various surgeries has clearly limited prep time for events. Thinking he can just show up at such important championships and then magically flip a switch to compete against younger more prepared competitors is a fanciful concept that's simply failing.

Woods has chosen not to put his body through arduous practice sessions or addtional tournaments for fear he will reinjure himself. The flip side is that without enough competitive engagements his golf game is not as sharp as it might be.

Of course, the overall legacy of Tiger Woods is set in stone. He is clearly one of four players to be placed on the Mount Rushmore of golf. Even if he never hits another shot the stature of his accomplishments is firmly planted in the record books. Should his level of non-competitive play continue one can only wonder how long he will proceed down a path showing little promise for success.

Part of the greatness of Woods, and any other elite level athlete for that matter, is the ironclad resolute belief in themselves. That specific element is the rocket fuel that propelled them to heights far beyond their competition.

With Pinehurst behind him - the next competitive appearance for Woods will be at The Open Championship in late July at Royal Troon in Scotland as a three-time winner of the Claret Jug.

The acceleration of golf worldwide comes from the standout play Woods demonstrated going back to his days as an amateur before turning professional in 1996. The inspiration Tiger provided is often cited by countless professional players competing now in their prime years.

Woods has acknowledged he does not wish to be a ceremonial golfer who simply shows up with no remote chance in being competitive. Yet the reality is clear – fighting simply to make cuts is now the new norm for Tiger.

Going into a deeper discussion dive with Woods on how much longer he desires to play elite level golf is not likely to happen. For much of his professional career Tiger has perfected the non-answer in deflecting specific questions from inquiring media.

Tiger is facing a time clock with accompanying pressures from a variety of different sources. Ultimately, the inner passion that burned long and hard for him in amassing his formidable record of  accomplishment will need to be rekindled.

Does that spark remain?

Verbally he says yes but the outcomes produced say otherwise.

More importantly, is Woods even capable of reigniting that flame at this point in his life?

However, without resolve and meaningful commitment, the answer can only be what Creed said to Balboa --

There is no tomorrow.

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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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