Throughout most of his career, Tiger Woods had spoiled golf fans around the world with an impeccable flare for the dramatic as well as an unmatched intensity that put his name on the leaderboard seemingly every week.
In the years since his familial fiasco in November 2009, he has been more human between the ropes. Some experts credit this transformation to changes in his personal life; others attribute his lack of success to the rest of the field’s improved play. Either way, the landscape of golf has changed, and as exemplified by his performance at Abu Dhabi this past week, Woods is no longer on top.
In recent years, he has had some “Tiger Moments,” but they are fewer and far between. His Saturday charge at the 2010 U.S. Open, which was punctuated by a carving 3-wood to reach the par-five 18th hole in two, had some critics saying he was “back.”
Woods also made a resounding charge on the front nine at the 2011 Masters, where he eagled the par-five eighth hole and threw up one of his classic haymakers. Last year, he chipped in at the 16th hole in the final round at the Memorial on his way to victory. All of these moments should have signified his return to glory, but he has been unable to take the next step.
There have been times in the past few years when the only way you could tell it was Woods playing was by the Nike swoosh on his hat. Golf fans have become more accustomed to his missing cuts and throwing clubs instead of unleashing his patented fist pump.
Missing the cut in an elite field in Abu Dhabi is nothing to be ashamed of. Rory McIlroy, the No. 1 player in the world and the heir apparent to Woods’ throne, missed the cut as well, but there are different standards for Woods.
His play was sporadic, but that should be expected playing in his first tournament of the year. In fact, if he had just asked a rules official for a ruling regarding a drop on the fifth hole of his second round, he would have been around for the weekend. Instead, he was assessed a two-stroke penalty for an illegal drop and ended up missing the cut by one shot.
Elite golfers miss four to five cuts per year on the average, and it is no big deal. When Woods misses a cut, however, it is a major story—he has only missed nine cuts in his professional career.
Golf fans have to come to the realization that this Tiger Woods is incapable of being the “old” Tiger Woods—the one of yesteryear who would blow the competition out of the water, and have his competition beat before they reached the first tee.
Long gone are the days where Woods would start the season by blitzing the fields during the West Coast Swing. Instead, like most golfers, he comes out of the gates slowly and works his way into the season.
Woods’ play this past weekend should not shock anyone. Is Woods still a great golfer? Yes, but he is no longer the dominant force he was once was. The Tiger Woods of 2013 is obviously not the Tiger Woods of 2000, and golf fans should accept him for who he is right now—a Top 10 player, who, when on his game, can contend and win.
Woods will not view his career as complete unless he breaks Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships. In the past, his mental strength is what made him great. Golf can be the most unnerving sport, but Tiger always kept his cool and seemed able to control the uncontrollable.
His dominance with a golf club in his hand and a red shirt on his back was astounding. Woods was able to do things with a golf ball that other professionals only dreamed about. The question was not if he would break Nicklaus’ record, but when.
Now, Woods has not won a major since 2008, and with each passing tournament, his window continues to shrink. He is now 37, has had health problems throughout his career and the mileage is starting to take a toll. He needs to win five major championships in order to pass Nicklaus.
To put this into perspective, he needs to win more majors than Phil Mickelson (arguably the second-best player in the Tiger Woods era) has won in his entire Hall of Fame career. Can it be done? Yes, but I would give him a better chance if he were the Tiger Woods of old.
As Woods gets set to start his 2013 PGA Tour season this week at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, there will be talking heads everywhere trying to prognosticate how he will perform. Torrey Pines has been a course Woods had owned throughout his career. He has won seven times professionally, including his 2008 U.S. Open victory.
In years past, a Woods' victory would be almost a foregone conclusion, but, if there is anything golf fans have learned in the past few years, it is impossible to predict Woods—his inconsistencies are his only consistencies. This week, he is as likely to be packing up Friday as he is to be holding the trophy Sunday afternoon.