Will the ‘old Tiger’ emerge once more?

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SPO_Tiger Woods_Keith Allison via Flickr_web
Keith Allison via Flickr

There was a time when Tiger Woods looked to more than threaten Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major tournament wins, but after a spate of poor finishes, Woods has decided to take time away from golf until he feels his game is “tournament-ready.” Starting 2015 by being cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, and then withdrawing from the Farmers Insurance Open saw his ranking tumble to 62nd in the world. The ‘old Tiger’ appears to be gone, and it is foolish to expect him to dominate the PGA tour as he once did.

As it stands, his last major tournament (comprising of the US Open, British Open, Masters, and PGA Championship) win in the 2008 US Open left him four major wins from Nicklaus. At that time, the question was not if Woods would catch Nicklaus, but when he would do so. After highly publicized personal issues in 2009 that resulted in a divorce from his then-wife Elin Nordegren, he endured two injury-plagued seasons during which he only reached the top 10 in four tournaments.

He rebounded well in 2012 and 2013, winning eight tournaments, but did not add any Major wins—the criteria on which he will ultimately be judged. In 2014, Woods only managed to play in seven tournaments and finished in the top 25 just once. The powerful swing that won Woods the “Tiger Slam”—the feat of holding every major championship title simultaneously—has led to the premature deterioration of his body.

First it was his knees, then his elbow, and then his back—each injury requiring a complete remaking of his swing. His most recent problem though, has been a psychological challenge. Woods has developed what is called a terrible case of “the yips.” This occurs when a player loses all confidence in their short game and play around the greens. What was once a strong part of Woods’ game has failed him as of late.

Woods’ deft touch on and around the greens has been replaced by an unsure swing, duffed chips, and atrocious putting. Unfortunately there is no simple fix for this; confidence cannot simply be conjured out of thin air.

When Woods will return to the PGA tour is unknown, though one would hope it is before the next Major—the Masters in April. If he wants to break Nicklaus’ record, he will need to start winning again, and sooner rather than later.

Woods is 39 years old, an age at which very few men have won Majors. Ben Hogan and Nicklaus each won three Majors at 40 or older, though Nicklaus’ last Masters win in 1986—achieved when he was 46, and coming six years after his previous Major win—was an aberration. Woods will also return to face an incredibly talented field. Arguably, Woods himself could be blamed for this as his successes in the late 1990s and early 2000s led to an increase in talented young golfers entering the professional ranks. In the 26 Major tournaments since Woods’ last win, 19 different golfers have lifted those trophies.

The ‘old Tiger’ might have had a chance against a talent pool that deep, but in his current situation it is impossible to expect him to win another five or even four Majors. I refuse to believe that he won’t ever win another—he was too good for too long to make that assumption. But even one miraculous tournament at the age of 46 like Nicklaus would seem unlikely to make much of a difference to his place among golf’s greats. Golf fans though, would love to see a glimpse of the ‘old Tiger’ holding a trophy aloft.