Tiger’s Trouble at the Tee

Things have gone from bad to worse for the world’s most recognizable golfer, Tiger Woods. The month of February has been Tiger’s worst and most embarrassing month in his entire golf career.

After generating a lot of hype by announcing he would start his 2015 campaign at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, a tournament where he produced a lot of excitement early on in his career, Tiger had his most embarrassing outing. Tiger followed up a 2 over par 73 in the first round with a career high 11 over par 82 in the second round. Tiger then looked forward to Torrey Pines, a course where he has had tremendous success over his career. He has won 8 tournaments there, including the 2008 US Open in miraculous fashion on one knee against Rocco Mediate in an 18-hole playoff, but only more embarrassment ensued. Tiger only made it through 11 holes at Torrey Pines before doing what has become all too common, withdrawing due to back stiffness. The following week he announced on his website that he would be taking a leave of absence.

“My play, and scores, are not acceptable for tournament golf. Like I’ve said, I enter a tournament to compete at the highest level, and when I think I’m ready, I’ll be back,” Woods stated in his announcement.

This invites many questions about the once invincible golfer: what has happened to Tiger, when will he come back to golf and will he ever win another major? Everyone has their own opinion on why Tiger Woods has seemingly lost his game. The man who once held the world number one title for five straight years has suddenly dropped all the way down to 66th in the world, his lowest ranking since he turned pro in 1996. Tiger used to amaze us with his ability to scramble out of trouble and make every putt when it mattered the most. Now he makes us cringe with every snap hook and three-foot putt missed. Most people look to blame Tiger’s troubles on his very public divorce back in 2010, but I believe it started at the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine. 

Hazeltine marked the first time that Woods had lost a major after holding a 54 hole lead. Tiger went into Sunday holding a two-stroke lead over Padraig Harrington and Y.E. Yang. The tournament was all but written off as Tiger’s 15th major championship and one more step in his quest for catching Jack Nicklaus and his 18 majors. However, the day did not play out like Tiger had hoped. Woods posted three over par, 75, and Yang shot an even par, 72, making him the PGA Champion and first golfer ever to catch Tiger Woods on the last day of a Major Tournament.

Since then, Tiger has not been the same in majors; he has played well, but he has not shown the same capability to separate himself from the field and win like he had become accustomed to in the early years of his career. Since 2009, Tiger has five top-five finishes in Majors but zero wins. This shows that his game has been good enough to get him to the final groups but not on the podium. The missing component has been his mental game and the fear that he was able to impose on anyone who played with him. Tiger used to scare people on Sunday when he came out in his red shirt and black pants, but now it is just an outfit. Ever since Y.E. Yang beat Tiger on a Sunday, people are not afraid to play with him, and it has affected him mentally.

Tiger has now gone through two different swing coaches and is now relying on himself as his own swing coach, which obviously is not working. He has even changed how he deals with his fans and members of the media by cracking jokes and making fun of his own game.

The other change in his game has been his physical ability. Tiger revolutionized the sport when he added the component of heavy weight training. Before Tiger, guys were scared to lift because it could possibly make their swings too stiff.  When Tiger came on the tour he was so strong that he could take completely different lines off tee boxes and get through the rough easier than anyone else on the tour. Now, however, his body is slowly decaying with surgeries to both his back and knees, the two most vital body parts to a golf swing.

I believe this break will be good for Tiger if he works on the right things and doesn’t rush back. His next scheduled event is on February 23, the Honda Classic, for which he has said he’d like to make it back in time but won’t push it if he is not ready to return.

Tiger still has a shot of breaking Jack’s record because if he wins one more major, it could give him a large confidence boost and open the floodgates to many more. However, with every break he takes due to injuries, the next generation further solidifys their spot on the PGA tour. Rory McIlroy has now won four majors and proven that he is the number one golfer in the world. Not lurking too far behind are Americans Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth who are both due for a Major win this season. Will Tiger ever reclaim his title?