The sex-scandal happened. The injuries happened. Losing happened.
From late 2009 until early 2012, the most talented golfer of all-time, Tiger Woods, was weighed down by several major events, all falling under the three categories just mentioned.
But now it is 2012 and Tiger has, for the most part, moved on.
He’s healthy, and he’s winning, currently leading the PGA Tour in wins this year with three.
So for an athlete that prides himself around one thing and one thing only, winning, what’s the problem? Why are some people still questioning one of the most dominant athletes this world has ever seen?
No matter how many other records you hold, this is the one that really matters in the world of golf. The average sports fan doesn’t know who Sam Snead is, who happens to hold the all-time PGA wins record, with 82. But every sports fan knows Jack Nicklaus, because of his all-time best 18 major championships, despite being 3rd on the overall wins list.
So for Tiger Woods to be remembered as the best golfer of all time, he has to overtake Jack in the majors category. But that will undoubtedly be a long and arduous process.
First and foremost (for now), he just has to get back on the board.
So far, 2012 has been good for Tiger, but not great. Matter of fact, it hasn’t been anywhere near great. No year will be great until he gets back on the board with his 15th major championship.
So the million dollar question: “Is Tiger back?”
Is he back?
When debating whether or not Tiger has found his form of old, fans make the mistake of comparing him to his old self. The one that, at times, had a winning percentage above .500 on the PGA Tour. Which is, well, just not fair.
I’m as big of a Tiger fan as anyone. I like and respect lots of golfers on the Tour, but he’s my favorite. I tune in nearly every weekend to PGA events and root for Woods whenever he’s in the field. Because of all that, my answer may come as a bit of a surprise.
Not only do I think that Tiger is not back, I don’t think he ever will be.
Why do I say that? Because this is a new Tiger. And while the new Tiger won’t be anywhere near his old self, he’ll still be far better than any other single golfer overall. That much I’m positive of.
When Tiger used to dominate, the question for deliberation was “Tiger or the field?” Just think about that. You’re asking if one person will win or if one of the other, say, 150 golfers will. That’s absurd! Anyone in their right mind would take “the field.” But it was just too tempting to take Tiger…every. dang. time.
You couldn’t point to any other golfer and honestly say “I know he will be better than Woods this week.” It just didn’t happen. Sure, he got beat more times than not, but you couldn’t put your finger on any one golfer before the tournament and confidently say that he would outplay Tiger.
And so while the old Tiger is not back, in my opinion, the new Tiger is here. And he’s here to stay.
He’s won three times already this year, and even in a week viewed only as a failure, like this past week at The Open Championship, Tiger finished tied for 3rd place. At least to me, that reminds me of the days when fans would rip Tiger apart for playing terribly despite a top-5 finish at Augusta, for example.
His mind is back in the right place, and his game isn’t too far from that. He’s been playing a controlled ball off the tee, striking the ball rather well, and hoping putts fall. Once his wedges and short irons start to fine-tune themselves like we all know they will, enough putts will start dropping and Tiger will once again be hoisting a major championship trophy.
A handful of years ago, I chatted with a producer at the golf channel and asked him what Tiger is like. He said “No matter who you’re with, he’s always the smartest guy in the room.”
So while the Tiger of old is not “back,” I think the mental side of his game is, and I’m confident he knows what he has to do to win once again.
Once he’s able to do so, well…look out “field.”