Tiger Woods’ name is in the news this week, and justifiably so since his Quicken Loans National is the premiere event on the PGA Tour. The tournament raises money for the Tiger Woods Foundation and also hands out free tickets to members of the military, and the value of those two things, and Woods’ role as a benefactor cannot be overstated. For all of his personal problems, Woods remains incredibly generous with his time and his money.
However, his play on the course has diminished greatly in the last 18 months, and despite all that, his every move, his every swing, his every shot, is watched, analyzed, criticized, and played back as if he was about to make contact with aliens, not hitting a golf ball.
Understandably when you rack up 14 Major wins in an 11-year span, not to mention sit three tournament wins behind Sam Snead for the all-time lead, people are going to paying attention, but this Tiger is not the Tiger you’re looking for.
It’s hard to say what drew more viewership – Woods’ rise to the greatest golfer of his generation or his subsequent sordid fall from it with a messy divorce and admission of being a sex addict playing out in the tabloids. Tiger regained his status as No. 1 in the world in 2013-2014, found love again with skier Lindsey Vonn, and things seemed to be back to status quo – minus the Majors – until he hurt his back and his game started to suffer in kind.
The crazy thing about it all is that two years ago, Tiger Woods won five times in 16 tournaments, and finished in the top 10 eight times. He would have won the FedEx Cup if not for an incredible surge by Henrik Stenson, and looked just as sharp to start off 2014 with a second-place finish at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge. He was 5-under through three rounds when he had to pull out of the Honda Classic with back pain, eventually having surgery that saw him miss The Masters and turn the rest of his season into two missed cuts, one withdrawal, and a 69th-place finish at The Open Championship.
As a result, Woods is 1 year, 11 months, and 26 days short of his last win – the Bridgestone in 2013, a span of 21 events.
It’s the second-longest stretch without a title of his career, trailing only the 2 years, 2 months, and 22 days between his win at the 2009 BMW Championship and the 2011 Chevron World Challenge, a time frame punctuated by the four months he took off for personal reasons when his sex scandal broke in late 2009.
Will Woods win again? The question used to be if he had enough gas left in the tank to catch Jack Nicklaus at 18 Majors. Winning four more Majors seems quite impossible for the current incarnation of Woods’ game, which has lost its polish, despite his claims to the contrary before each and every tournament this year.
And yet the scrutiny remains, because he was the best for so very, very long; the best the Internet era has known, the very best since Nicklaus himself blew our minds with his Masters’ triumph at age 46.
And that is inherently the problem with being an all-time great. Your every move is watched, collated, tracked, and dissected. Woods’ only contemporary in any sport throughout his career has been tennis’ Roger Federer, a friend of Woods, who holds the ATP records for Grand Slam titles (17), most weeks at No. 1 (302), and most consecutive weeks at No. 1 (237).
After winning at least one Grand Slam every year from 2003-2010, Federer had the audacity to fall short of all four in 2011, eventually “falling” as low as <gasp> No. 4 in the world.
He would bounce back to win Wimbledon again in 2012 at the old age, for tennis stars at least, of 30, and three years later is still ranked No. 2 in the world.
But Federer has the advantage of being six years younger than Woods, and his career has been positively controversy-free. The Swiss is by all accounts happily married and has four children – two pairs of identical twins.
Thus the question posed in this article’s headline, is it time to stop caring about Tiger Woods? The PGA and European Tours have no short of more interesting players, including Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, who have started their careers on Tiger-esque arcs. It’s a bit sad to focus so much on Woods’ struggles, but I find myself just as guilty of that as any writer/blogger, usually ending my weekly golf rankings blog with his latest slide down the charts.
Woods, like Federer, like Pelé, is a subject of fascination because he was so good for so long, in a sport where being great for even a week or two earns you millions of dollars and the hero worship of millions of fans. The media attention will not abate regardless of how good or bad he plays for the rest of his career.
Yet as individual fans, we don’t have to join in the Woods’ deluge, any more than we do any other story the media tries to cram down our throats. In the mean time, focus on the exciting talent competing every week on the PGA and Euro Tours. If Tiger starts playing well again, we’ll let you know.