Tiger Woods: What His Performance This Fall Means for 2011
Now that the sun has set on the final hole of Tiger Woods' most controversial and bizarre season as a professional, what's the verdict?
Does ending his season with three top-15 finishes warrant erasing his missed cut and withdrawal from our memory?
Do a pair of fourth-place finishes in major championships (Masters and US Open) counteract what was, to be blunt, Woods' most mediocre, unpredictable season since entering the Tour?
Tiger Woods has become a question mark.
It's the most common theme, sentiment, and notion that spawns from fans and foes alike about Woods' consistently inconsistent, overwhelmingly underwhelming 2010 season.
What's most bizarre is having to associate uncertainty with the one player who transformed golf by epitomizing certainty. Something about it feels foreign, faulty, and frankly freakish.
Remember the guy who used to hit wayward shots behind enormous trees or into deep, desolate bunkers, but always had a magical recovery shot in his arsenal?
Or the guy who you'd never think about second-guessing when the pressure was on, with the game on the line, and victory just a single stroke away?
That was the Tiger Woods of 71 PGA Tour victories, 14 major championships, and a host of other accolades that earned him the World's No. 1 Ranking.
Did Woods ever engender a sense of distress or despair?
Well now, with a bitter sex scandal exposed and divorce officially over, it's worth wondering whether that fierce, fervent competitor will ever reemerge.
This season, his two best finishes were also his two most bitter, difficult-to-watch finishes. At both the Masters and US Open, Woods' putter eluded him on the final day of the tournament and inhibited a late surge.
A win at either event may have propelled his return to dominance, but there something else clearly awry with Woods not just in those two events, but throughout the season.
He didn't have his command, or at least not on a consistent basis.
He'd hit a fairway on the opening hole, only to miss the next six. He'd strike a pure 8-iron with a divot the size of dollar-bill to inside ten feet, but slice his next five approach shots.
His erratic play was most noticeable at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club.
Though Woods had won this event seven times in ten attempts (placed T2, fourth and T4 the three other times), he looked like a stranger in a strange land, praying for something to go right as he barely managed to finish inside of last place, T78.
Worse than his ghastly play was Woods' poor, ambivalent behavior. At times he blatantly ignored his pre-shot routine only to walk up apathetically and slap his next shot. It was a Woods never before seen, and one we hoped to never see again.
The FedEx Cup Playoffs were uplifting for Woods because there were recognizable adjustments in his game that allowed him to excel, displaying glimpses of his old self.
Woods made a conscious effort to hit fairways by using his most reliable clubs off the tee, like long irons and woods.
Hitting more fairways presented Woods with the opportunity to do what he does best: attack pins. His ability to visualize and execute an array of shots, a skill that evaded him at the beginning of his season, was now the crucial difference in his game, leading to a T12, T11, and T15 in his final three events of the season.
Tiger followed up with a relatively solid showing at the Ryder Cup. Though his team with Steve Stricker got trampled over and embarrassed by Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, Tiger pulled through on the final day in the singles matches.
Looking at Woods' season, from tee to green, from start to finish, if golf fans learned one thing it was that we could not longer delay the inevitable: Tiger Woods is human.
His transgressions were one side of that coin, but his perpetual, grueling struggle to locate and manage his game was the other.
Woods needs to be just as patient with his game as we do. A watched pot never boils. Give him time.
The 2011 season is not as close as it seems (projected to begin Jan. 5, 2011) meaning Woods will have a substantial break from competitive golf to do whatever he needs, feels, thinks, or believes will get him back into final pairings on Sundays.
For the 2011 season, Woods will be neither the favorite, nor the inconsequential Tour pro. Instead, he's the guy with something to prove.
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