One of the most confounding and uneven seasons in Tiger Woods’ illustrious career closed with a resounding thud on Sunday in the finale of the 2013 FedEx Cup playoffs at East Lake Golf Club.
Tiger’s 22nd-place finish among 30 players in the season-ending Tour Championship dropped him from first place in the FedEx standings to second behind Henrik Stenson. More importantly, it ended any hope the world No. 1 had of finishing a drama-filled roller coaster season on a high note.
Instead, Tiger is left with an empty ending to his 2013 campaign that, despite five PGA Tour victories and a return to the top of the world rankings, can only be viewed as a disappointment when measured against the very standards the world’s best player sets for himself.
For the fifth straight year, Woods failed to win a major championship, extending his drought to 18 consecutive starts. He also dealt with multiple injuries and was mired in a pair of rules controversies that, to some, cast a shadow on his on-course credibility.
The bitter icing on that rather distasteful cake was his struggles in the playoffs, which he began more than a month ago with a sizable lead and seemed destined to win. That opportunity finally disappeared amid poor putting, wayward driving and all-around listless play at East Lake.
A third FedEx Cup title wasn't going to erase the disappointment of failing to win a major for the first time since the 2008 U.S. Open. Yet it would have provided a measure of redemption for Woods, who must feel like this year has been a frustrating tale of two players from start to finish.
By normal measure, a five-win PGA Tour season is a career year worthy of wide acclaim. By Tiger standards, however, the lack of a major championship and all the other static that disrupted his year time and again are hard to overlook in accessing a final grade.
Publicly, Woods says his season was a good one, and if not for his long-stated emphasis on chasing down Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships, he’d have a solid argument to rest on.
It’s not just the number of wins Tiger has in 2013, but the quality of the tournaments he captured in the process.
In addition to winning the Players Championship for the just the second time in his career, Woods claimed a pair of World Golf Championship events, including the Bridgestone Invitational back in August, in which he fired a second-round 61.
Tiger also captured the Arnold Palmer Invitational for an amazing eighth time and won at Torrey Pines, which really should be renamed in his honor considering how many titles he’s claimed there.
Couple those accomplishments with that fact that he earned well over $8 million in prize money, and you've got a great season by just about every measure—save one.
There is the one standard of excellence that Woods holds himself to that simply makes the argument that his 2013 season has fallen short of the mark. Tiger is about wining major championships, and at the age of 37, and due to the fact he’s been stuck on 14 titles since 2008, the pressure to do so has never been more intense.
It’s hard, then, to argue that Woods' five triumphs aren't trumped by his glaring goose egg in golf’s biggest events. And it’s not just the 0-for-4 in those tournaments that tell the terrible Tiger tale, but the absolute struggles he had in the majority of them.
Even Tiger’s best performance was accomplished under a dark cloud. His tie for fourth at the Masters was significantly overshadowed by his near-disqualification for a bad drop that ultimately led to two strokes being added to his second-round score.
So if there was a measure of redemption to Tiger’s 2013 season and some momentum to be forged for 2014, it was supposed to come through a third FedEx Cup championship that would have been completed this weekend in Atlanta.
Instead, the world's top golfer struggled almost from the start of the playoffs and did so mightily at the finish. As a result, Tiger is left with one of the more perplexing seasons of his professional career.
His five victories and ascendancy to the world’s top ranking are significant accomplishments to be sure. That said, at this stage of his career, it’s about major titles. By that standard, 2013 simply doesn't measure up.
It might not be fair, but no one ever said it was easy being Tiger Woods.