It’s hard to imagine a professional golfer who won three times in 2012, won $6.1 million dollars and climbed from No. 23 in the World Golf Rankings at the beginning of the season to No. 2 at the end is in search of his mojo or swagger.
But, indeed, Tiger Woods will head into the 2013 season in such a state. Yes, his win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard broke a two and a half year winless streak. And yes, he showed flashes of brilliance at times during the season.
There’s really only one thing that’s keeping the man who dominated the game for over a decade like nobody ever did from getting that special Tiger Woods swagger back.
Win a major.
For a man of his considerable talent, even though that talent has been beaten, bruised and somewhat diminished since late 2009, it’s been four years since Woods hobbled around Torrey Pines on a fractured bone in his leg and a blown-out knee and won in a playoff.
“I’ve always said winning one major championship turns a good year into a great year,” Woods said this week in Malaysia. “I’ve had years where I’ve won five times on Tour. Yeah, it’s a really good year, no doubt, but winning a major championship just makes it a great year. The majors are such a different animal and different breed, and we place so much emphasis on them.”
His presence in any tournament in which he plays is still a big boost at the gate, causes spikes in viewership numbers (especially when he’s contending) and give any tournament “big-time” feel.
Going all the way back to the 2007, Woods has missed a total of five cuts in 88 tournaments entered. Not a bad percentage by any gauge, but it’s certainly not something is used to. In the other 11 years of his career, he’s missed only 15 cuts.
When he was dominant, missing a cut was out of the question. Certainly not a major deal, but rather it’s an indication of the kind of flux Woods’ career has been in the last few years.
The blueprint Woods will be working off during the PGA Tour’s abbreviated offseason will be centered on dealing with issues that hurt him during 2012. Better accuracy with his driver, much better accuracy and distance control with his short irons and better putting prowess.
Having said that, it must also be said that in his last nine worldwide starts, Woods has finished outside the top-11 only twice. In other words, it’s not like the man is shanking his way around golf courses these days.
Let’s be clear on something: Tiger Woods is capable of winning another major championship. He’s capable of winning more than one more major. That will return the swagger that’s been missing from what we’ve seen of Woods on the golf course these last few years.
By the same token, let’s not be foolish enough to believe that another major championship will automatically return him to what he was 10 or 12 years ago. He’s not the same guy, mentally or physically, that he was in 2000. The latter is a key because even though he’s gone through a handful swing changes and alterations, so much wear and tear has been put on his body with how violently he swings that it would be impossible for him to do what he did in his 20s.
On the mental side, his world was rocked by the events of late 2009. The chances of him being able to recall that amazing focus probably aren’t all that good.
Even as he struggles with the changes that accompany a 36-year-old body, swing changes and the mental stress of a divorce and the implosion of his business kingdom, Woods is the second-ranked player in the world and has proven he can win again on the PGA Tour.
It’s obvious, however, that the aura of being invincible no longer exists for Woods among the other players on the PGA Tour. The players who have been out there a while know what he was and have felt the bruises of what Woods could do. The younger players read and watched Woods in his prime, but many come to the tour with a great deal of confidence and respect, not fear, for Woods.
As he navigates through his blueprint, Woods will need to find consistency in his overall game. In terms of winning a major, that consistency is an obvious shortcoming. In the last three years, Woods has posted scores in the 60s just three times in majors. That’s 18 rounds and just three of those in the 60s.
Not a recipe for winning.
In the interview this week at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, Woods said he remains targeted on Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major titles and Sam Snead’s 82 tournament wins, but said those were no longer his biggest priority.
“Being the best father I can possibly be to my two great kids,” Woods said, “that certainly is No. 1 in my life.”
An admirable goal, but Woods has had the goal of winning more majors than Nicklaus since he was a youngster. He still wants very badly to win that 19th major, which means he needs to capture five more.
Augusta National (Masters), Merion (U.S. Open), Muirfield (Open Championship), Oak Hill (PGA Championship) all await Tiger Woods’ pursuit in 2013.