This past weekend Tiger Woods’ struggles went from simple bad to embarrassingly bad. (Photo by Jeff Lewis)
Once thought to be inevitable, Woods passing Nicklaus’ record 18 career majors may not be a cinch. Woods’ non-golf distractions could potentially derail historic possibilities.
By Michael Brown
Sentinel Contributing Writer
After Tiger Woods crashed his sport utility vehicle at the end of his driveway last November under suspicious circumstances, commentators and spin-doctors speculated that once he returned to the PGA after time away, everything would be kosher. However, after finishing near the cellar this past weekend, Woods’ career has taken a turn for the worse and is veering towards unknown territory.
Heading into the Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio, Woods was already in the midst of a slump as his game has gone awry and his personal life has been filled with uncertainty. In his ninth event of the year, golf fans once again witnessed Woods entering a Sunday, 20 shots off the lead, and with no chance at winning. In years past, all eyes were glued to the TV just to see what Woods would do on the back-nine.
But as the age-old axiom states: “that was then and this is now.”
Gone is the sure-fire golf assassin who would routinely intimidate opponents at courses all over the world and has utterly dominated the sport for almost 15 years. The Cypress-bred phenom who many of us witnessed first as a tike slapping golf balls with his father, Earl Woods, on the popular show, “That’s Incredible,” has seemingly disappeared and been replaced.
Woods was replaced by a guy this past weekend that registered his worst career performance ever. And get this; the lackluster showing was on a course he had won a PGA record seven times. The friendly confines at the Invitational were anything but, as Woods struggled from the outset, bogeying on two easy holes, hitting two drives into trees and blasting a TV tower on an approach shot.
Woods’ first-day performance was more worthy of a demolition man rather than a championship golfer. He finished with his worst first-round ever at the event with four-over-par and trailed a guy named “Bubba” by 10 shots.
From then on, Woods’ play sank further as he meandered through the course over the next few days without any clear strategy. He looked more like a guy searching for answers and unsure of himself, than a seasoned veteran known for mental toughness and thriving in the face of adversity.
Instead, Woods finished the event with a 77, bringing him to 18-over-298. It was his highest score as a pro or an amateur, placing him one spot above last place. Luckily for Woods, he retained his No. 1 world ranking by a hair due to Phil Mickelson’s almost equally terrible performance. But, that top spot is in peril unless Woods can recapture what made him successful in years past.
Woods’ downward spiral has resulted in 0 wins in eight events this year with only two top ten finishes. Furthermore, his subpar play may have ramifications beyond the rankings, both immediate and long term.
Immediately, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin is likely to have a tough decision soon. With Woods slipping in the Cup standings, he may not automatically qualify for a spot. Pavin’s dilemma will be whether to choose Woods if his game still isn’t on-point.
To his credit, Woods seemed to imply that he doesn’t expect a pity pick to be made. Woods even went a step further by saying he wouldn’t pick himself either if he continued his porous play.
With Woods in the doldrums, the networks that televise the PGA will undoubtedly suffer dramatic ratings losses as long as he continues to be non-competitive and irrelevant on Sundays. Since Woods has stepped on the scene, the former almost all-White exclusive sport, popular with country clubs, has been able to expand its base and appeal to a wider audience.
As Woods goes, so do the casual fans. This fact was bore out when Woods was injured in 2008 and the majority of tournaments saw their ratings drop by double digits.
The Ryder Cup and ratings are both important, but can be remedied if Woods shows up at the next PGA Championships and reverts back to form. Woods’ pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 majors may be another story.
Currently with 14 majors under his belt, Woods is still on pace to pass Nicklaus’ record. Nicklaus didn’t win his 14th major until he was 35 years old, and Woods won’t turn 35 until December. But even if Woods does eclipse Nicklaus, the occasion may prove to be a disappointment.
Several years ago, everyone assumed not only would Woods own the record, but would one day put it out of reach of any players following behind him. We all speculated that Woods could potentially become the most dominant athlete a sport has ever seen since Michael Jordan. In fact, along with Jordan, Woods was coined the rare athlete bigger than his sport.
If he ends his career with 19 majors instead of 27 for instance, the mood of golf fans may go from jubilation to anti-climactic. We may all look back at Woods’ legacy with a feeling of contentment, but unfulfilled because we felt that he left money on the table.
Since that fateful night after Thanksgiving in 2009, the world’s No. 1 golfer has racked up more hits on celebrity websites than accurate ones on the links. Woods’ extramarital exploits have become water cooler fodder supplanting discussion about his precision-like putting or monstrous drive.
The strain that his infidelity put on his family and corporate sponsors is clearly bleeding over into Woods’ game. Woods looks like a shell of himself, lacking the mental mettle and sound physical mechanics we’ve all become accustomed to seeing from him.
At this point, he’s not in competition with Nicklaus, but in an event much more important. Woods resembles a man trying his best to keep a happy face on when he clearly wants to cry.
The uber-competitive golfer, who used to chide fans in the gallery for snapping his picture, blurted out expletives and slammed club’s when he missed a putt, seems to have mellowed and shunned our expectations for seeing him excel.
Ultimately, if he doesn’t etch his name in the record books, the past several months filled with salacious stories and reckless babble, may not only alter Woods as a person, but may derail our chance to see history.