If Tiger Woods would have shot a simple one under par round in the final round of the British Open, he’d be in a playoff right now with Ernie Els. Instead, Tiger adds another minor collapse to his career, beginning with a triple bogey on the long Par Four sixth hole, a hole he birdied in the first three rounds. While I believe his use of iron play off the tee was fairly wise throughout the entire tournament, that particular play lost fluidity in the final round. His new swing developed by his new swing coach Sean Foley is coming along round after round. I think he’s settled into that swing. However, when he needed it the most today, his ball striking was as poor as it ever was. To make matters worse, the wind, the fescue, and the diabolical pot bunkers proved to be a major dent for Tiger. It was nice to see Tiger birdie the 18th to conclude a roller coaster weekend, but in the end, Tiger will return home to Florida without the Claret Jug, and another failed opportunity at winning a major championship title. Just about everybody following the game of golf has been asking this universal question since Tiger won the 20-player field at the Chevron Classic last December. “Is Tiger Woods Back?”
We’re use to Tiger getting out of trouble in awkward lies, making those clutch five-footer, ten-footer, and even 20-footer par putts, and winning tournament after tournament after tournament. After his personal life intervened with his near-perfect and unstoppable golf game, Tiger has not been the same golfer we know today. As we all know, you either love Tiger or despise him. Because of that, you set the bar at a certain level for his golf game. For those that loved him, winning for the first time at the Chevron was a sign that the ‘Old Tiger’ is back. For those that hated his guts, winning the Chevron was a joke. If he ever wants to be the same player he was before his infidelity, he must break Jack Nicklaus’ major record. No matter where the bar is set, there’s always going to be bias.
I’ve always been a big fan of the guy. I was crushed to hear Tiger’s sex exploits when Elin wasn’t around. It was disheartening to see a man, who was practically the king of the world, betray his family, friends, and fans. His whole life crashed to the ground. Deep down as a fan, I know Tiger wanted to get out of this humiliating and unsettling nightmare. If it was going to be anybody that could save Tiger from ruining his life, image, and career, it was going to be Tiger. While I don’t know Tiger personally, I know he’s improving year after year. In the 2012 PGA Tour Season, Tiger is getting close to coming back.
Winning the 20-man field at the Chevron Classic was just the beginning. Tiger has won three times on Tour this year – the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Memorial, and the AT&T National. Tiger also had a tie for second finish earlier this year at the Honda Classic. Leading the PGA Tour in the FedEx Cup point total, Tiger has risen from the mid-20s in the World Golf Rankings to now number four in the world (before the British Open results). In front of him are three golfers that have not been on their A-game - #3 Lee Westwood, #2 Rory McIlroy, and #1 ranked Luke Donald (who has yet to win a major). At this point, Tiger is in the driver’s seat.
On the flip side, while Tiger has won three times, he’s also had some abysmal tournaments. He’s missed cuts at the Wells Fargo and The Greenbrier Classic, while having poor finishes at the U.S. Open (T-21), the Players Championship (T-40), and surprisingly The Masters (T-40). To me, Tiger reminds me of the average Tour player. There are so many great talents on the PGA Tour. The majority of these pros have the tendency of winning at least a couple of tournaments during the season, and then also missing a few cuts. There’s not one golfer on tour as of right now that consistently can win tournaments and/or finish in the top-10 week in and week out. When Tiger Woods was at the top of the world, he never missed a cut. If you follow Tiger close enough, he was always on the first page of the leaderboard, whether he ended up winning or not.
During his absence, not one golfer took it upon themselves to steal Tiger’s mojo. Most of the attention has been centered around some of the young up-and-comers on Tour. Rory McIlroy was supposed to be ‘the guy’. So far, his play as of late has been an utter disappointment. Rickie Fowler, whom I consider to be the most overrated golfer out there, hasn’t done enough, outside of his only career victory at the Wells Fargo this year. Dustin Johnson is another talented stud, but he’s had a difficult time finishing down the stretch, especially major championships (Exhibit A: the bunker situation at the 2010 PGA Championship). In my opinion, Bubba Watson may be that one player that could mimic Tiger’s game. His shot shaping is one of the best on Tour; he can blast the crap out of the ball; not only does he have 4 career wins on Tour early in his career, he’s consistently appearing in the Top-10 on leaderboards. Plus, he has a Masters title under his belt. He’s also a guy that can successfully battle emotions on the golf course. His personal life has always been on his mind - he’s lost his father due to throat cancer; his wife was unable to conceive children, and for a while, they had a hard time adopting a child. Most recently, they were chased in their car by some crazy person in the middle of the night. Perhaps his only flaw, Bubba will also call things like he sees it. For example, he said his game was not fit for the Olympic Club at the U.S. Open (he missed the cut because of that attitude). Bubba, however, strikes me as somebody that can take his game to the next level. And by the way, where has Phil Mickelson been in all of this? That might be the biggest shocker, while Tiger was trying to deal with his personal life.
Case and point - Tiger is at the same playing level as the rest of the professional field. At the same time, not one golfer on Tour wants to take over the power that Tiger once had. This is Tiger’s opportunity NOW to regain and take back the power he lost three years ago. It starts by locking down a major championship. While he’s 0 for 3 in Majors this year, he has another shot at the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island in August. Whether he wins it or not, I honestly believe that it’s just a matter of time before he wins another major. Although Tiger did not show his best at the British Open this weekend, he managed to finish tied for third. A lot of people from both biases do agree that Tiger will be considered “back” when he wins a major. I believe so, too. We know the guy can win again on Tour; let’s see if he can bring that spark to the Majors. Tiger has a lot of fuel still in the tank. Theoretically, if the guy can stay healthy, the sky is the limit. Remember, Tiger is 36 years old. Tom Watson was 59 when he almost won the British Open a couple of years ago. People thought Jack Nicklaus was washed up at the age of 46 before he won the Masters in 1986. I’m sorry, but if Tiger can’t at least win a Major by the time he’s 46, then we know Tiger is probably done for good.