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Tiger Woods Still Struggles

While Tiger Woods had seemed to be on the rebound of late, his performance at the 2012 Masters was a major setback.

He appeared to be on the rise, going into a tournament that he once dominated, on a course where he is a perennial threat. He fell. Hard.

It’s the same sad story: Tiger Woods is so close to, but so far from, having the game that once put fear in his competitors.

This is not about a sex scandal anymore. Given his moral and religious inclinations, I see no reason why that should be dragging his golf game down at this point. If he were a Christian, it would be the end of his game. But he’s a Buddhist with otherwise secular leanings.

This is not about money. Even after the divorce–which left him much lighter in the wallet–he’s not lacking in money.

No…this is about timing. The scandal was a major setback–it took him out of the game for several months.

That alone, however, would not have sunk him.

This is about the hard realities of the aging process.

Had the scandal broke when he was 25, he would be dominating right now.

But now, his competition has caught up to him. He may be the most physically-fit player on the Tour, but he’s had knee surgeries.

He does not get the same driving distance that he once did. His 2006 driving distance (306.4) was almost 12 yards greater than it is this season (294.7).

That may not sound like a great deal, but that dropoff in yardage puts greater pressure on other parts of his game. When you’re 12 yards shorter off the tee, it turns an eagle/birdie on a par 5 into a birdie/par situation. It forces you to go for longer irons–that carry a lower margin for error–where you once relied on easier-to-hit shorter irons. You end up in more bunkers. If you end up in the rough, you’ll have a harder time hitting out of it.

And that yardage dropoff has been sustained.

Year Yards
2006 306.4
2007 302.4
2008 294.3
2009 298.4
2010 295.8
2011 293.7
2012 294.7

His driving distance hasn’t been in the 300s since 2007. And he’s only won a single major (the 2008 U.S. Open) since then. He had knee surgery in 2008, and does not appear to have been the same off the tee since then.

I won’t bet against Tiger. He still is putting up impressive numbers, and his mechanics are sound. He is strong enough to compete in any given tournament. He is capable of winning more majors, and even challenging Nicklaus.

But he is going to have a very hard fight against Father Time. The scandal cost him two years. If that were ten years ago, it might not have been as big a deal. But he is no longer in his prime. He is going to have to compete as his body is declining–and as his competition no longer fears him.

When your opponents believe they can beat you, and your skills are waning, then competition gets harder.

Nothing succeeds like success, but nothing fails like failure.

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