Tiger Woods is clearly in decline. His left knee is chronically injured and is causing additional leg problems. His putting has significantly worsened. Tiger’s off-course incidents have eroded the mental edge that he had over his peers.
While he is only 35, the combination of physical and mental factors have caused a premature erosion of his skills. He only displays flashes of his old self.
The best outcome for golf is for Tiger to lose to a young player in a major. This will create a new superstar in golf overnight. The new generation will finally be seen as having arrived. The tournament would be talked about for years and be viewed as a generational moment.
The 1960 US Open shows how great this scenario can be. Ben Hogan was the biggest star in golf despite not winning a major in seven years. His leg injuries forced him to a part-time schedule. His putting had declined and he spent much of his time concentrating on making golf clubs.
Ben Hogan would battle with Arnold Palmer and a 19-year-old Jack Nicklaus for the title. On the double round, 36 hole, final day, he hit 34 straight greens in regulation. His putting kept him from running away with the tournament. His downfall came on the 71st hole, as he tried to attack a tough pin and his ball spun back into the water.
Jack Nicklaus was still an amateur in 1960. Yet he shot 32 on the front nine to take the lead. It wasn't his time yet. He bogeyed the 13th, 14th and 18th holes and essentially choked in his first serious bid at a major.
Arnold Palmer cemented his status as a superstar in the 1960 Open. He shot an incredible 30 on the front nine and finished with a 65. He overcame 14 players and seven strokes to win his first US Open. It was his third major, and it officially closed the door on Ben Hogan’s era.
The trio of Hogan, Palmer and Nicklaus was a clash of the past, present and future. At the time, Hogan’s status in the game was legendary. Palmer and Nicklaus were nothing compared to him. It is similar to how Tiger is regarded in comparison to other young golfers today.
If Martin Kaymer held off Tiger and Matteo Manassero or Rory McIlroy in the 2012 US Open it would be great for the sport. There might be a temporary dip in revenue and prize money, but one man will not permanently reverse a 60-year trend. Golf will continue to grow and be prosperous after Tiger fades away.