Until now it has been a less than compelling debate. Editors wishing to fill space in their respective golf magazines or newspaper articles have simply had to ask their golf writers to file 1,000 words on that most hackneyed of golfing questions, ‘Will Tiger Woods get back on track this season and win another “major”?’
This has often been supported by some anodyne responses from Woods about how much better he is feeling physically and mentally and is all set to start his charge in an attempt to overtake Jack Nicklaus’s record haul of silverware. However, after his disastrous start to the 2015 PGA tour season it is now more a question of, if he shows up, will he make the cut?
Until August 2009 Woods had never lost a tournament on American soil when leading going into the last round. Victory was as inevitable as the red shirt he would wear on the final day. At Hazeltine he went into the last round of the PGA Championship with a two shot lead, but South Korean Y.E.Yang reeled in the 14-times major winner to triumph by two shots as Woods finished bogey, bogey. But far worse was to come.
There is no doubt that Woods’s aura all but vanished on the November night in 2009 when he drove his car into a fire hydrant pursued by a furious Mrs Woods wielding her nine iron. Tales of promiscuity on a scale of epic grandeur soon followed and there he was, done. That inner steel that could intimidate each and every player on the course melted. All it took would be a smirk, a look or a nudge. ‘Howdja make out last night then, Tiger?’ He has not won a major since.
The demise of a great champion is often painful to watch. When Seve Ballesteros could barely keep his tee shots on the golf course both spectators and those playing with him were tempted to look away. Often it starts with the putts no longer dropping but when the drives start going haywire too Nemesis is near.
Australian Ian Baker-Finch, winner of The Open in 1991, played with Arnold Palmer at St Andrew during the 1995 Open. He asked, ‘Why am I always paired with has-beens?’ before his drive on the first tee, an enormous hook that managed to traverse not only the first fairway but also the adjoining 18th before landing on the road. Palmer responded with, ‘Who’s the has-been now?’ Injury followed injury for Baker-Finch and he retired from the professional game in 1997 no longer capable of keeping his drives within the ropes; but at least the greats of yesteryear were spared any more of his crass comments.
David Duval, a man who traditionally kept his emotions tightly in check behind his dark glasses was ranked the world’s number one in 1999. Never a crowd pleasing showman he was nonetheless capable of golf of extraordinary accuracy as was demonstrated in his triumph at Royal Lytham & St Anne’s in the 2001 Open. Later that same year, he celebrated his 30th birthday with victory at the Dunlop Phoenix Open in Japan and that was that. His game, quite simply, fell apart.
Woods appears to have combined the worst disorders of Ballesteros, Baker-Finch and Duval. Injury, an inability to regularly find a fairway and the collapse of his once infallible short game. And allied to that medley of complaints, his ferocious mental determination and the ability to intimidate other opponents appears to have vanished with the entourage that once marched down the fairways with him.
Watching him hit shots that an average 18-handicapper is only too familiar with at this year’s Farmers Insurance Open was ghoulishly fascinating for many but tragic to see how far possibly the greatest golfer ever has fallen.
On the Torrey Pines‘ driving range Woods was shanking his wedge shots whilst, when out on the course, his playing partner, Billy Horschel, was bending down to pick up his tee and occasionally retrieving his ball from the hole. An injured Woods withdrew after 12 holes in the second round with the remarkable statement, ‘It’s just my glutes are shutting off’ thus turning sympathy into bemused laughter and a flurry of comments on Twitter about how he was not so much talking about his backside as through it.
He later announced that he was taking an indefinite period off golf although intimating that he might make a re-appearance within two weeks. As so often a Woods press statement left many no nearer understanding what was really happening or how he felt. He currently stands 62 in the world ranking, his lowest position since turning professional in 1996.
A whole new generation of golfers have appeared on the scene since Tiger Woods was at his majestic best. Players such as Rory McIlroy and Jordan Speith never competed against the great Tiger Woods and now they don’t have to because the great Tiger Woods is no more. If sports’ editors are looking to fill space perhaps the question they should now be asking is not so much whether he can win another ‘major’ but rather ‘Can McIlroy catch Woods?’