Maybe it’s time to give Tiger Woods a break.
Time to take him off the pedestal that he’s been placed upon by his history of record-setting performances, his pummeling of fields of competitive players and his unthinkable shots under unfathomable pressure.
He’s become the victim of an all-or-nothing standard in which he simply has no say, but one to which he's simultaneously held responsible.
There’s no other golfer today, and perhaps no other athlete, who is as scrutinized as Woods, simply because he’s made a career of exceeding expectations.
In 1997, just a year after turning pro, Woods won his first major at the Masters, becoming the youngest player ever to capture the Major at the ripe age of 21. Woods left an indelible mark on Augusta National, winning by a record 12 strokes, in what is arguably the greatest major championship performance in golf history.
But the burden that would attach itself to Woods from then on, and would only gain more momentum after every feat, was the burden of expectation.
After that commanding performance at the Masters, it became shocking for Woods to enter a tournament and not come out the victor. Before he was 25 years old, Woods had already won 24 times on the PGA Tour. Five of those victories were major championships.
To put that in perspective, Jack Nicklaus had just 12 victories before he was 25.
He’s the only player to have won all four major championships in a row (in the 2000–2001 seasons), a feat so special it earned its own name: the "Tiger Slam."
From 1998 to 2003, Woods didn’t miss a single cut, setting the all-time record for most consecutive cuts made, with 142 (Byron Nelson is second with 114 and Jack Nicklaus is third with 113). That’s consistency like no other player has ever displayed in the history of the sport.
He was the surest bet Vegas had ever seen. It was like giving Michael Jordan the ball in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter or watching Mariano Rivera take the hill in the ninth inning.
There seemed to be no battle he couldn’t conquer. Swing changes, coaching changes, courses being "Tiger proofed." No match for the Genghis Khan of golf.
Then at the end of 2009, when Woods’ infidelities became public knowledge, his life—and golf game— unraveled.
What followed for Woods was a dismal two-year winless drought, marked by personal time away from golf, injuries, poor play and undeniable soul-searching.
Tiger made palpable strides in 2012, winning three times and contending in multiple majors, giving us a glimpse of the old Woods. Yet his struggles, both personally and professionally, revealed his mortality.
Most striking of all was his inability to convert in major championships. In the four majors this year, he was minus-8 on the first two days and plus-15 on the last two days. We are talking about one of the greatest frontrunners ever (14-1 when entering a major with the lead on the final day) who was proven incapable of closing despite viable opportunities.
Woods has never hidden that his true aspiration, his lifeblood, is major championships. Like Muhammad Ali or Joe Namath, Woods made a blatant, bold statement that he will surpass Jack Nicklaus’ major championship record (18).
Today he owns 74 PGA Tour wins (second all-time) and 14 major championships (second all-time).
So, what should our expectations be for one of golf’s greatest champions? Should he remain on the pedestal? Even as he faces new, younger players itching to make a name for themselves—and one in particular, Rory McIlroy,, who has shown himself to be every inch a remarkable champion—Tiger remains the player fans want to see.
According to Nielsen, when Woods was sidelined with a knee injury in 2008 and missed half the season, TV ratings fell by 47%. To further emphasize his impact on TV ratings, CBS' Sunday coverage of the AT&T National drew a 4.6 overnight share, up 188 percent from final-round coverage last year, when Woods didn't play in the tournament and Nick Watney won it.
Whereas people’s fascination with Tiger used to be watching how many shots he’d win by in a tournament, now they tune in for the same reason they do auto racing—to see if there’s going to be a wreck.
The common denominator is fascination, sick as it may be.
Woods’ brazen personality, paired with his unprecedented skills, remains the most successful yet toxic, combination the sports world has ever seen, and may ever see.
But it’s also made him a casualty of the exact success he’s aspired to and worked for throughout his life.
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