By Leonard Finkel
I hear that Tiger Woods is back. But is he really? Tiger absolutely moves the needle. Ordinary tournaments become Majors. Majors become must-see TV. I’ll admit, even I’m sucked in. I tune in, just like everyone else, to see what he’s going to do. I read every article in any magazine I see that talks about Tiger. The appetite of the golfing public is insatiable for anything to do with Tiger.
It’s just after the Players Championship and many of my colleagues are touting his performance and saying that he’s back. It’s only a matter of time before he wins again. Some even say he might become the old Tiger. 65 – 69 on the weekend. They say that it was impressive and only two other players scored that well. If he wasn’t 14 strokes behind, maybe he might have won? Forget the fact that if a few other players hadn’t bogeyed 18 on Friday in the last groups, Tiger wouldn’t have even made the cut.
Let’s take a closer look at those weekend scores. On Saturday, Tiger was eight under after just 12 holes! He played the final six holes at one over. On Sunday, after 12 holes, he was six under. Once again, he played the final stretch poorly, this time in three over par. He closed in on Webb Simpson, was only a few strokes away, and had a sand wedge in his hands. He missed the green and made bogey. I would have been upset with the shot that he hit. The Tiger of old might not have won given the circumstances, but he would’ve put pressure on the leader. He just can’t close like he used to.
I went back and read some of the Masters previews in various magazines. More than a few picked Tiger to win, or at the very least, contend on Sunday. Vegas oddsmakers had him as one of the favorites. But Vegas odds have nothing to do with what their experts believe will be the outcome. The odds are made to balance the bets so that the house wins. With so many fans betting on Tiger, his odds to win plummeted.
But this is not the Tiger of old. Not even close. It’s almost laughable how the golf media, print and television, fawn over him. They talk about how, in recent tournaments before the Masters, he finished in the top 20 or in the top 10, including the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He even finished in a tie for second at the Valspar Championship! Some of you may recall when Tiger garnered his initial second-place finish. The media talked about how great it was. Tiger’s response, and he was pilloried for it, “Second sucks!” He truly believed that second place sucked. That attitude is what drove him to be the dominant player that he was. These days, sometimes he’s happy just finishing a tournament or making the cut. Not the same guy.
As for the media, they said he was trending in the right direction. His game was rounding into shape. Never count Tiger out. After all, he is still Tiger Woods. But is he? Take a closer look at some of his performances. He played at Torrey Pines, a site he’s dominated in the past. He’s won on that course eight times, including the U.S. Open…on one leg! This year he fought his heart out to make the cut. In the events he finished near the top, he played on shorter, less penal courses where he almost never hit his driver. In order to challenge at Augusta National, hitting his driver at times would be a necessity. We saw how those shots turned out.
One writer who picked Tiger to win the Masters reasoned that Tiger has dominated the course. He also compared Tiger to Jack Nicklaus who won at the age of 46, five years after his last major victory. But looking without those rose-colored glasses, Tiger hasn’t donned a green jacket since 2005. That’s 13 years ago. It’s been a long time since he truly contended here. It’s been 10 years since his last major championship. This is not the same Tiger Woods.
I’ll admit, on the weekend of the Players Championship, Tiger hit his driver beautifully. In his most recent comeback attempt, at times he putted beautifully. His brilliant short game has saved his bacon in numerous tournaments. That after overcoming his chipping yips. Let it be said, at any given time, specific parts of his game can be and are brilliant.
But professional golf at the highest level is about doing it all brilliantly and doing it for four consecutive days. My question is, can Tiger still accomplish that? Only time will tell. Do I think Tiger will ever win another PGA Tour event? I do. Do I think he’ll catch Jack with 18 Majors? While it’s possible he might win another Major, he’ll never catch Jack. There are too many talented players and Tiger’s intimidation factor is gone. None of the young guns fear him. They’ve never experienced his old aura. These days, he’s just another grinder on Tour.
That said, just like almost every other golf enthusiast, I can’t wait for his next event. I’ll be glued to the TV. Whether you root for him or against him, he is must-see TV!