Tiger Woods's Fall from Grace: Can He Recover or Is the End Near?

Todd PatakyCorrespondent IMarch 8, 2011

MARANA, AZ - FEBRUARY 23: Tiger Woods waits to hit an approach shot on the third hole during the first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club on February 23, 2011 in Marana, Arizona.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Tiger Woods is the most dominating player of this generation on the PGA Tour. No argument can be made against that statement.

When he is on his game, he is utterly unbeatable. The man won a U.S. Open, arguably the hardest golf tournament on earth, with a broken leg! How many other players would have even made the cut?

As the saying goes, though, pride goeth before destruction.

The events that led to Tiger's remarkable fall from grace are well documented, but consider the speed with which everything happened.

From 1999-2002, Woods was a force the likes of which have rarely been seen in professional golf. He won four consecutive major championships, an unprecedented feat in the modern game. That accomplishment is surpassed only by Bobby Jones's legendary "Grand Slam" in 1929.

And what did he do after that sustained level of play? He broke his swing down and worked on it, thinking he could do even better. Can you believe that? The man wasn't satisfied. (Ironic, isn't it, that he would be unsatisfied in other parts of his life later?)

After a few years of tinkering with his swing, he came back with a vengeance, winning six majors from 2005-2008, culminating in that incredible U.S. Open win.

There was talk that Woods would be the first athlete to earn more than a billion dollars in combined winnings and endorsement money.

Then, as it so often does, the truth came out.

Since his self-imposed "break" from golf at the end of 2009, during which he received treatment for sexual addiction, Woods has not been the same on the golf course.

His swing is a mess, and his scoring has been erratic at best.

He has finished in the top 10 of a PGA Tour event only twice since the end of 2009 and hasn't won an event since September of that year.

So is this the beginning of the end of the Tiger Woods era? Certainly the signs all seem to be pointing in that direction.

Gone is the mystique that once surrounded him. His aura of invincibility has evaporated, leaving only the very human man where the red-clad, club-twirling superhero used to be.

In two forgettable starts on Tour this year, he has not even cracked the top 30.

Certainly he could turn it around. If watching Tiger Woods over the years has taught us anything, it's that we should never count him out.

It would certainly seem that the Masters might be his best opportunity to win a major, having won four Masters titles previously. The other three majors, being played at Congressional (U.S. Open), Royal St. Georges (Open Championship) and Atlanta Athletic Club (PGA), would seem not to play into his hands, at least not the way he is playing right now. Tiger's best finish in a major at any of those courses is a tie for fourth at the Open Championship in 2003.

Tiger is good for golf, especially for televised golf, as evidenced by the fact that the Tour saw a decrease of nearly 50 percent in viewership in the latter half of 2008 (when Woods was not playing) over 2007 (when he won the PGA Championship). 

He has all the talent necessary to compete and win at the highest level, as we have seen innumerable times over the past 14 years, but right now his head and heart are in the way. It seems that he is playing golf not for the love of the game, but rather to escape the real-life problems that are bedeviling him outside the ropes.

Players of the game will recognize the saying, "Bad life, bad golf." That phrase has never been proven more correct than we what we are seeing from Tiger Woods right now.

What's hurting him even more is that he is right in the middle of his prime, when he should be playing the best golf. A player's mid-30s are when he is at the peak of his golf powers. If another year or two gets past him, he may squander the opportunity to reach the clearly stated goal he set for himself all those years ago: to surpass the great Jack Nicklaus in major championship wins.

My money is on him not being able to recapture the magic he once had. I think he will win another major, maybe two, but I feel Nicklaus' record of 18 professional majors is safe.

Stability is at the heart of good golf, as anyone who plays can tell you.

And right now, Tiger Woods is anything but stable.