aNewDomain — He was golf’s ultimate prodigy, an overwhelming presence who spent an astonishing 683 weeks on top of the World Golf Ranking and a sure bet to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major victories.
Now, the only things that appear to be broken are Tiger Woods’ body and Tiger Woods’ game.
When Woods walked off the course and dropped out of the Farmers Insurance Open before finishing his first round last Thursday, it marked the third time in his last nine events that he has withdrawn from an event. He barely made it to the back nine at Torrey Pines, a track he normally dominates, before giving in to a bad back.
Woods said his back never loosened up after the players had to sit through a fog delay in the morning. Back problems are always troubling for athletes, especially those who have had surgery in that precarious area. Woods missed most of last season after having a disk repaired in his back.
In truth, Woods’ problems started almost six years ago, even before “The Incident.” The following evidence adds up to a hugely uncertain future for the former No. 1.
No longer bulletproof
Woods was always unbeatable in majors when he held the lead entering the final round. Then came the 2009 PGA Championship. He was on top of the field, holding a two-shot lead after the third round. In his 14 major victories, he was either tied for the top position or held it outright. Unbeatable for sure.
Y.E. Yang, who had never won a major and hasn’t repeated the feat, overcame Woods in the final round to win the event by three strokes. While Yang has 10 worldwide, he wasn’t the likeliest player to become a Tiger killer. Yang’s celebration, lifting his golf bag over his head, was both over the top and appropriate.
Yang had proven Tiger was human. Woods hasn’t won a major since.
Everyone remembers the infidelity scandal that rocked the golf world in November 2009. After a National Enquirer story alleged that Woods was cheating on his wife and a myserious late-night wreck in his SUV around Thanksgiving that year, Tiger’s world quickly started falling apart. His calm, cool veneer replaced by awkwardness and uncertainty.
The following months included more cheating allegations, Woods’ admission to “transgressions,” an uncomfortable news conference at PGA TOUR headquarters, a staggering loss of endorsements and a divorce from wife of six years, Elin Nordegren.
While Woods was named Player of the Year in 2009, the following three seasons started the transition from a Tiger-dominated game to one that belonged to younger stars, some of whom grew up admiring Woods.
While Tiger was spending more time on the sidelines than the course from 2010-’12, international stars Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott and Justin Rose along with Americans Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler were dominating the game.
Mcllroy in particular is believed to be Woods’ successor as keeper of golf’s eternal flame. The Northern Ireland native already holds a huge lead in the World Golf Ranking and has four majors and a World Golf Championships title at age 25. The only hole in his resume is a Masters trophy and no one is under the illusion that won’t happen.
Even an excellent 2013 season, when Woods won seven events and was again named PGA TOUR Player of the Year, has proven to be a mirage.
The Bubba Factor
Speaking of The Masters, the kickoff to the majors season used to be the place where Woods dominated, the place to get his mind right. It was, after all, the spot where he came back in 2010 after the scandal.
The powers that be at Augusta National even famously “Tiger-proofed” the course in 2002 by adding trees, growing the rough and pushing back tee boxes. Woods won the event two more times after those course updates, pushing his career Masters haul to four trophies.
But there’s a new dominant force in Augusta. Watson, the world’s third-ranked player, has won the tournament twice in the past three years and enters this year’s event as the defending champ. Watson’s unorthodox game and ability to hit impossible shots makes him the favorite to win again this year and the foreseeable future. Tiger’s time appears to be gone.
Too many injuries
Woods’ list of injuries has simply become too much to bear: back, Achilles, knee, tibia and elbow. He has only played in 64 events since the start of the 2010 season. Putting that number into perspective, hard-working Brian Harman played 32 tournaments last season alone.
The latest back flare-up further clouds his immediate future. Will he come back in time for The Masters? Or is this beginning of another lost year, the end of which will see Woods turning 40.
Woods’ fans will say that their hero’s struggles are attributable to rust and getting accustomed to a revamped swing and new coach. Maybe. But Woods has dropped out of the top 50 in the World Golf Ranking and will fall even further if he sits out many more events or keeps missing cuts.
Woods appears to be finished, an incredible career cut down by injuries, scandal and an increasingly large field of good young players. He’ll never be the same player who dominated the PGA TOUR for more than a decade. There’s no evidence to suggest otherwise.
For aNew Domain, I’m Rodney Campbell.
Photo credit of Tiger Woods before the 2012 Accenture Match Play Championship in Marana, Arizona: Copyright 2012, Rodney Campbell, all rights reserved.