Is It Far Too Soon to Say the Tiger Woods Era Has Ended in Golf?

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistApril 6, 2014

Tiger Woods sees off on the 14th hole during the final round of the Cadillac Championship golf tournament Sunday, March 9, 2014, in Doral, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky

On Tuesday, April 1, Tiger Woods announced through his website that he had undergone successful microdiscectomy surgery for a pinched nerve that had been causing him back pain since late last year.

And no, this was not some form of April Fool's Day joke by the world’s No. 1 ranked golfer.

Needless to say, the sports media exploded over Woods’ unexpected announcement.

But whereas 40 years ago journalism was a means of reporting the news, journalism today is much more a form of entertainment.

Between the radio, internet, social media, 24-hour per day news networks, including a 24-hour per day network dedicated solely to golf, smart phones, iPads, text alerts, etc. most golf fans knew about Woods’ announcement within an hour of it being posted in his website.

Woods’ announcement was posted on his website at around noon ET, which meant that the news of Woods’ surgery and decision to skip the Masters was essentially no longer news at all by mid-afternoon. It was now the job of modern day sports journalists to create entertaining pieces that would draw in readers.  

And what better way to do that than by publishing doom and gloom, end of an era type articles about Woods. Because let’s be honest, a story with a headline “Tiger Woods Undergoes Back Surgery, Will Miss Masters” was just not that interesting a mere 45 minutes after Woods’ initial announcement was made.

But within this colossal web of articles, social media posts, opinion pieces, television talking heads, radio programs, etc. about Woods and his latest injury that were all produced to entertain us, it is very easy to lose sight of the facts.

Since Woods underwent reconstructive ACL surgery following his victory at the 2008 U.S. Open, he has been somewhat healthy for just three out of the past six years.  

Woods, although at the time still recovering from ACL surgery, could have been considered healthy for most of the 2009 season.

In 2010, Woods was just coming off a self-inflicted hiatus due to his off-the-course transgressions, was going through a messy divorce and also suffered a neck injury at the Players Championship.

Woods suffered a MCL and Achilles strain at the 2011 Masters while hitting a ball from underneath the now extinct Eisenhower Tree which had him out of action for several months and caused him to miss both the U.S. Open and Open Championship.

Woods was then healthy for much of 2012 and 2013, although his back injuries began late in 2013.

During those three healthy seasons, Woods had 14 wins and 31 top-10s in 51 events and earned more than $25 million. That is a 26.92 percent winning percentage and a 59.62 percent top-10 percentage.

If Woods’ entire career consisted of just his accomplishments during the 2009, 2012 and 2013 seasons, he would rank 27th on the PGA Tour career money list, ahead of players such as Fred Couples, Bubba Watson, Nick Watney, David Duval, Webb Simpson and Aaron Baddeley.

In terms of active PGA Tour members, only six have more career wins that Woods had during just the 2009, 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Woods won the PGA Tour Player of the Year in two of those three seasons (2009 and 2013) and won the Vardon Trophy in both 2009 and 2013.

Woods’ wins during these three years included three World Golf Championship titles and a Players Championship, as well as a FedEx Cup title in 2009.

Although Woods has not won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open, he has top-10s in six out of the 12 majors he has attended during that three-year period, including coming within a hair of winning the 2009 PGA Championship. Woods also added in three more top-10s in the six majors he played during his injury plagued 2010 and 2011 seasons.

So, to say that the “Tiger Era” has ended is nothing short of ludicrous.

Just one year ago, Woods was dominating the game in a manner that no one other than Woods has in the past three decades.

Woods won five times last season, including two World Golf Championship events and the Players Championship. Woods won the PGA Tour money title for a record 10th time, won the Vardon Trophy for a record ninth time and was also awarded both the PGA Tour and PGA of America Player of the Year Awards.

Does this sound like a player whose reign as the PGA Tour’s dominant force has ended?

In terms of Woods’ quest to catch Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championship victories, he is currently dead even with Nicklaus in terms of wins versus major championships played, which means that Woods’ back injury will cause him to fall slightly behind Nicklaus’ pace this season.

That being said, Nicklaus’ career was essentially coming to a close in 1981 when he was 41 years old. Nicklaus’ win at the 1986 Masters was much more of an anomaly than a demonstration of Nicklaus’ longevity into his late 40s.

Fitness training, advances in equipment and golf ball technology as well as advancements in the field of physical therapy have allowed modern day golfers to remain much more competitive into their late 40s.

So, there is not even much of a doom and gloom story yet in terms of Woods’ quest to break Nicklaus’ record.

While Woods will almost certainly fall behind Nicklaus’ pace this season, Woods’ years of remaining competitive at the majors will more than likely exceed the number of competitive years Nicklaus had during his career.

The only X-Factor in all of this is Woods’ health moving forward.

Woods’ microdiscectomy surgery is by most accounts a fairly minor procedure that is extremely common amongst athletes.

Woods not being able to come back from this procedure and play pain-free golf for many years to come would actually be a far less likely scenario than Woods swinging the club pain free in just a few months.  

But this latest back injury is of course just one of several injuries Woods’ has suffered in recent years.

If Woods is physically unable to play golf at a high level moving forward, then obviously the “Tiger Era” will abruptly conclude, if it has not already.

But, if you are predicting the end of the “Tiger Era” based on injuries that may or may not occur in the coming years, that is a bit of a stretch for most non-clairvoyant individuals.

And if you are basing your prediction on Woods’ quality of play in recent years, well that simply doesn’t make sense when looking at Woods’ utter and complete domination of the game during the last three years he has been healthy, including his five wins on tour just last season.

Since 1980, only two players not named Woods have won more than five PGA Tour events during a single season (Nick Price in 1994 and Vijay Singh in 2004).

So, while the doom and gloom, end-of-an-era type pieces may be eye-catching and popular, they tend to lack the facts needed to back up this kind of claim.

At the end of the day, predictions are just that, predictions. And everyone is entitled to their own opinion about how things may play out for Woods moving forward.

But basing those predictions on injuries or physical breakdowns that may or may not occur in the coming years over the fact that when healthy Woods has continued to dominate the game, is just a bit much for this writer.

Everyone likes to be entertained, but the cold hard facts tend to tell a much more accurate story.


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