The scene could not have been scripted more appropriately – Jack Nicklaus’ tournament, Tiger on the cusp of tying Nicklaus in career PGA tour victories, and one horribly impossible shot finding the bottom of the cup and stirring up a fist pump reminiscent of the ghosts of Tiger’s past. If you’re a sports fan, you’ve seen the highlights by now – Sportscenter’s anchors were practically drooling on their desks waiting the deliver the highlights. And as a fan, Tiger’s second win of the year came as a reminder that at least some of that “old” Tiger magic is still in there.
By winning his 73rd PGA tour event, Tiger tied Jack Nicklaus for second most all-time – albeit at 10 years younger than Nicklaus was when he won his 73rd event. Only Sam Snead’s 82 victories sit ahead of Tiger – there’s little doubt that he’ll get there, but the real mountain that Tiger is trying to climb is winning 5 more major to surpass Nicklaus’ 18. Tying Jack with 73 wins was merely a stepping stone on Woods’ path to Mecca.
All of this got me thinking – I’ve heard so much about Tiger since his life took that dramatic turn two years ago. My friends who don’t follow golf closely have their opinions, my mom has her opinion – seemingly everyone has a dramatic opinion with regards to the current state of Tiger – both his golf game and his personal life. I’ve heard all parties out, and I still think the American public as a whole just isn’t getting it. It seems to me as though very few people outside of those who intimately cover Woods for a living have any clue.
Tiger Woods is misunderstood. That may be even more cliche than saying “Tiger banged so many waitresses” or “Tiger will never be the same.” Cliche, but I think very much true. For the record, I’d like to extrapolate on my opinions with regards to where Tiger is at – take them or leave them as you choose.
Tiger Woods is not “back.” His swing is different, his game is different. He’s not winning at the clip that he used to. He’s coming in 40th place in majors. He’s not dripping with sponsorship deals. That said, it is true that Tiger never left. Tiger Woods is Tiger Woods – the guy has had a lot on his mind these past two years, and golf took second place for the first time in his life. It hurt his game, and it probably shook his confidence, but to steal the lovely words of Josh Beckett “sometimes there are more important things.” The Tiger that never left was the Tiger that fist pumps, the Tiger that never misses a gutsy putt to bag championship. Tiger the competitor is the same as he’s ever been, and that’s the Tiger we all want to see. His game is now just now beginning to catch up.
I see two primary reasons for Tiger’s recent struggles – both of which seem amazingly obvious to me and have nothing to do with waitress A or waitress B in the little black dress. The first is swing changes. Tiger has a new coach, a new caddy, and a new swing – these changes take time to become repeatable enough that you can trust them under pressure. We’ve seen this with Tiger before, and we’re seeing it now. Second, and even less surprising, is his personal life – his relationship with his kids specifically. I have no intimate knowledge of Woods’ family life, but I know that Tiger worships his parents and especially his dad, giving his upbringing a ton of credit for his success. Woods’ children are still too small to grasp the events that led to Elin attacking Tiger’s car with a golf club, but one day he’s going to have to explain himself. Few situations could be worse than explaining your unfaithfulness to your children, and I have no doubt that Tiger is driven to be the best possible dad that he can be with this glaring mark already on his record.
In general, Tiger is villianized by many as a cold-hearted adulterer, and his actions do speak for themselves. While I’m in no way defending Woods, how many of those passing judgement on him have been thrust into the international spotlight as a teenager? Woods was handed the world – all of the money, fame, talent, and yes women that he could ever want at an age that is just too young to be making fantastic decisions in the inevitable scenarios that he faced. He fell into some bad habits that clearly persisted throughout his marriage. Did Tiger have a Rolodex of women in every city he traveled to? I doubt it. I’m sure that his infidelity was no one-off, but the speculation of Woods’ hundreds of women is absurd. For anyone in the spotlight to the degree that Tiger is, it would be impossible for that lifestyle to last as long as it did prior to him getting caught.
So what’s my point in all this? Whether you want to believe it or not, Tiger is a loving father to his kids and was not running a Charlie Sheen-esque operation. I don’t make excuses for anyone who is given the world and screws it up, but I think those passing judgement need to imagine the unique circumstances Woods has faced. Did he make mistakes? Was he an ass? Absolutely. But is he the monster he’s been portrayed as? No sir.
As for his game, I don’t think Tiger will ever be the Tiger of 2000. I don’t expect 10+ win seasons, I don’t expect he’ll ever be winning majors by 15 strokes. I do expect Tiger to pass Sam Snead’s record of 82 victories, and I do expect him to pass Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors. Tiger’s had more conviction towards that latter goal than he ever had towards his marriage – that’s just the reality of it. Only one person is destined to be the best golfer in the history of the sport, and that man is Tiger Woods. Trust me, it’s not a curse.
From here on out, Tiger will regain his form. He’ll win his next major sooner rather than later, and it will be a big deal. But Tiger has in many ways screwed himself by bringing a younger generation to the game – more players, younger players, nearly of whom are trying to replicate the game that has made Tiger so famous. As Tiger gets older he’ll win more than his share – likely more than anyone else – but I think this new Tiger will only win when his game is on. If he’s playing well he’ll be capable of winning any week and on any course, but his B- game just isn’t going to lead to W’s anymore. That’s the new Tiger Woods as I see it… do you agree?