Why Tiger's Lack of Competitive Golf is a Problem
Article by Will Trinkwon
Hard-bitten, long in the tooth, and plain ragged were all words that you could realistically use to describe Tiger Woods' performance at last week’s Memorial. True, it wasn’t without some vintage moments. Yes, he did make the cut and, truth be told, his first and third rounds really weren’t all that bad. But, overall, it was far from a vintage display by the cat and now, of course, everyone's wondering ‘what happened?’
The answer, if you want this young cat's view, is probably very simple: time and age, albeit not quite in the way you might initially think. It is the commonplace persective of pundits that Woods’ struggles are simply the inevitable result of the aging process. They point out that he is 44 and not a young 44-year-old at that, having endured (probably) double-digit surgeries over the years, mostly stemming from his famously too-rigorous addiction to the gym. To which one has to reply: fair enough. But as I have argued elsewhere, he’s still not an OAP, not fodder for a role as a ceremonial starter at the Masters, not a country club grandee yet. So, when I talk about time, I’m actually referring to the time he spends away from competition, and which is growing every year.
This is a problem. Because if this so-so week at Memorial is evidence of anything, it's that even when you’re Tiger Woods, time off builds rust. It is as inevitable as water undercutting a cliff. It is as unavoidable as the more oft-blamed barrier to more Tiger victories, Father Time. There is no sport, nay, no activity, in the world which one improves at by not doing it. So put simply, if Woods is serious about smashing Nicklaus’s majors record (he's currently three shy), and although he may still pip Sam Snead's PGA Tour wins stat, he needs to spend more time in the fray.
Justin Thomas, one of the many young cubs who grew up watching the master, has joked that Tiger is scared of playing comps, which highlights another problem. Of course, as I’ve just acknowledged, Thomas’ jibe was first and foremost just that: a joke. It wasn’t really meant seriously, nor have many pundits taken it as such. However, like all jokes, it contains a kernel of truth, for if Woods isn’t exactly scared of playing, he isn’t showing chops for demolishing his rivals either, something the old – or should that be young? – Woods relished. The fear factor. Rivals whimpering under the glare of Tiger's trademark red shirt on a Sunday. Despite the 2009 scandal, despite the diminished aura, it remains a potent tool. But if the red shirt is never donned, if the crucial Sunday tussles happen and Woods isn’t there, then players aren’t going to tremble. As Thomas' joke (inadvertently?) suggests, Tiger's layoffs may be weakening his intimidation skills.
At this point, I should make it clear that I’m not suggesting Woods’ ability to stare down rivals is sapped completely by his slim playing schedule, nor that playing more competitions will necessarily improve this. This is Tiger Woods we’re talking about, lest we forget, perhaps the greatest golfer of all time, who’s duffed up more rivals than I’ve had hot dinners. Even if he tweaked a one-and-a-half-footer with a major on the line, he’d still be able to induce a few tremors. Probably.
But there is no doubt that staying away from competitions doesn’t do his aura any favours. It moves him out of the spotlight and out of sight and, consequently, inevitably, out of mind. Who would deny that for Tiger to be seen as an active force, an active threat, he needs to be, well, active? Why does the big cat spend so much time sitting on his paws, allowing other younger, hungrier players to prowl fairways which are bereft of his presence?
In his interview after a horrible second round on Friday, a downcast Woods seemed to go back to his usual scapegoat: the aging process. He said: “Aging is not fun,” before going as far as to claim that now he’s “just trying to hold on”. But hang on a minute: yes, I know that Tiger is better placed than some hack on a deadline to assess where his body is, but just over a year ago this same man was extolling the brilliance of his fusion surgery, talking tough talk about how fit and ready he was to go scalp-hunting, the newly crowned Masters champion. What happened?
I don’t know. Look, plainly there’s no good denying that some of Woods’ troubles have their roots in his bad body. I accept that, clearly, they do. But it is equally foolish to suggest that Woods’ heavily restrictive playing schedule doesn’t have a part to play in this latest span of mediocre golf, too. At Memorial, Woods looked tired, and dull. The odds are that had he battled off Bryson at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, or the Charles Schwab Challenge, he might not have been so lacklustre.
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