Is Tiger On the Way Out?

Tiger Woods has now fallen out of the Top 50 in the rankings.

While there are many who would announce his demise–and there is a strong case to be made–I would have a hard time saying that he’s done.

I’ve seen this in the tennis world. Andre Agassi–after marrying Brooke Shields–dropped out of the top 100 in the ATP rankings. He mounted an impressive comeback, became the fittest player on the tour, and won a few more majors. Ultimately, degenerative disk problems in his back forced his retirement.

An even more impressive comeback was that of Jennifer Capriati. She went from teenage phenom to convict and castout, but made a valiant return and managed to win two Australian Opens and a French Open.

Why do I bring up these examples from the tennis world? It’s not far-removed from golf in terms of the mental aspects. The competition is also very fluid and always steep, and the need for mental toughness is phenomenal. If you are having personal scandals, and you’re down a break against some young upstart in the 5th set in a 3rd round match at Wimbledon, life is going to be hell. The British press is brutal, and the otherwise-dignified crowd will be gunning against you. Rolland Garros isn’t much easier, nor is Flushing Meadow.

Working in Agassi’s–and Capriati’s–favor? They were still relatively young. Agassi made his move at the best possible time: his biggest threat was Sampras, as Federer was still emerging and Nadal and Djokovich hadn’t really come to prominence yet. Capriati had a fair amount of talent around her, although there was no single dominant woman’s player–like a Martina Navratilova or a Steffi Graf–out there.

Tiger, in contrast, is on the back 9 in terms of age. At 35, he is at an age where his body starts deteriorating.

Even though he has an impressive fitness regimen–he may very well be the fittest player in PGA history–the laws of nature are still there. Tendons and ligaments start wearing down. Arthritis starts taking hold. Flexibility starts deteriorating. When you’re talking about a golf swing, small changes in flexibility can mean all the difference in the world for your driving distance and accuracy. You start leaving more drives in the rough than before. Those 300-yard drives start becoming 275-yard drives. Those par 5s–that might make for eagle-birdie holes–become birdie-par holes. Knee surgeries don’t make that any easier.

That puts even more pressure on your short game. Trouble is, where going up and down once gave you the likelihood of a birdie, you start finding yourself having to do that just to save par. Making matters worse, that part of the game is the most difficult if you are savaged by scandals.

Still, while Tiger may be heading into his twilight on the age front, I would not say that he is “done”. I’m willing to bet that he has a couple Major championships left in him. I’m also willing to bet that he can still challenge the top 5 in the rankings.

But right now, whether he does that–or not–is 50/50.

The upshot of all of this: the scandals have exacted a price out of him that is nothing short of horrendous, due to (a) the time in which they occurred, and (b) the nature of the sport involved.

8 thoughts on “Is Tiger On the Way Out?

  1. It’s also worth noting that Tiger Woods has a history of leg, ankle, and foot problems. Still, I’m like you; I wouldn’t count him out just yet.

  2. @singleman
    Yep. He has had knee surgeries, too. And in spite of all the advancements we have made in that area of medical practice, surgery is still surgery: you’re never really “like new” when you come out of it.

    Still, Tiger is the consummate competitor. He knows what it takes to win; he has been able to win tournaments with his competitive drive. If he can get that confidence back, he’ll be able to make some good runs.

    That said, his physical skills are on the decline. There is not much he can do about that; the aging process is what it is. He’ll need to come to terms with the fact that he cannot just pull miracle shots out of his nether regions like he used to.

    At the same time, if he gets the mental part of it resolved, he should still be able to win a few big ones, and–if he keeps it together–maybe even challenge Nicklaus for the all-time major championship record. That much is a long shot right now, but it’s still not out of the realm of possibilities. But his time window is closing due to the vagaries of the aging process.

    The upshot of all of this: one gets a greater appreciation for Nicklaus’ accomplishments in the majors.

  3. “At the same time, if he gets the mental part of it resolved, he should still be able to win a few big ones, ”

    i think that’s gonna be the really hard part. from an up-close-and-personal seat, watching my ex all these years, that doesn’t come easy for sex addiction. the addiction eats their mental faculties like a cancer. personally, i hope that unless he proves significant rehabilitation and repentance that he doesn’t get his game back. nothing personal for him … just don’t want to see someone who’s been down that road succeed without the real hard work and sweat. in a sense, it sets a bad example for the rest of ’em out there.

  4. @Ame
    And golf is probably the worst possible sport you can be playing, given problems such as Tiger’s. The mechanics of the golf swing are one thing; the mental part is another.

    The mechanics of putting–for example–aren’t that complicated. Nor does it take an extraordinary level of physical prowess.

    At the same time, the mental part is HUGE.

  5. Golf is, I think, more mental than tennis. Tennis is certainly more physical than golf, which is why the better tennis players are more dominant. Also, golfers probably age a little slower than tennis players, which should be a big point in Tiger’s favor.

    I don’t think many observers would have ever expected Tiger to fall as far as he has. With Tiger, we’re now in uncharted territory, which makes it very hard to make predictions.

    Perhaps his injuries are worse than advertised? Or maybe losing his air of invincibility has completely destroyed his psyche? I have no idea, but so far Tiger has shown no sign of getting back to where he once was.

  6. @Buck Swamp

    “…golfers probably age a little slower than tennis players, which should be a big point in Tiger’s favor.”

    Tiger will turn 36 on December 30. Putting it in perspective:

    At that age, Nicklaus had 14 majors. He won each of the majors one more time, with three of them coming after he turned 40 (January 21, 1980)—The Open Championship in 1978, the U.S. Open and PGA in 1980, and The Masters in 1986.

    On February 22, 2003, Vijay Singh turned 40. He already had a career that most touring pros would die for—12 PGA Tour titles, two majors, and 23 other professional wins around the world. After that? In 2003, he added three PGA Tour wins to the one he won the month before he hit 40, and led the tour in prize money. The following year, he won NINE times, including the PGA Championship, and set a record for prize money on the tour that still stands. He added another win in January 2005, meaning that in the two years after his 40th birthday, he won more PGA Tour titles than he had before hitting 40. And he wasn’t done—his last PGA Tour win to date, in 2008, gave him 34 career wins on that tour.

    So, there’s plenty of precedent for Tiger being able to win multiple times.

    However, whether he mentally has it in him is a whole other story. One local sports talk host in Louisville has repeatedly said that the beginning of the end for Tiger was when Y. E. Yang chased him down in the 2009 PGA Championship. Keep in mind that this was BEFORE the scandals hit. Also, as Amir has pointed out, it’s iffy whether Tiger has it physically in him.

    I put the chances of Tiger catching Jack’s record for career majors at 25% tops.

  7. Looks like Tiger was able to recover, and finish in 30th place. To his credit, he had three straight rounds under 70, easily his best showing in quite a while.

    Does this signify that he is on a comeback tear? It dunno. It may or may not be a spark for him.

    That said, when you are trying to recover from a setback–weight gain, loss of your golf game, medical setbacks–momentum is everything.

    And Tiger’s latest performance is, if nothing else, a small bit of positive momentum.

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