Post by Sports Writer, Derek Clements
FOR those of us who marvelled at his deeds in the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century, the interviews given by Tiger Woods at his own Hero Challenge golf tournament were hard to listen to and to read.
Here was a man who owned the game from 1997 through to 2008, winning 14 majors, including one on a broken leg, admitting that it was all he could do now to walk from A to B, that he had no clue when he would be able to play again - or, indeed, if he would ever be able to play again. To prove the point, he spent the tournament touring the fairways in a buggy. How could it possibly have come to this?
It is a mark of the man's standing in the game that a host of top players, led by Rory McIlroy, took to Twitter to send their good wishes to Woods and to express the hope that he would soon be back at his best. None of them believed it though.
The perfect swing?
After two back operations this year alone, and with his 40th birthday looming, Woods will never again play his best golf. And everybody knows it, not least the man himself.
During a series of poignant interviews, he said that he peaked when he was 11 years old. If he really believes that then it is desperately sad. Woods, of course, has lived in the media spotlight for almost his entire life, with everything he did or does coming under the microscope. He was brought up to believe that he was bigger than the game and that he could achieve anything he wanted - and that certainly played a part in the serial philandering that cost him his marriage.
Woods now insists that he and his ex-wife Erin are "best friends" - if you can believe that, you will believe that Woods will win all four majors in 2016. This, remember, is the woman he humiliated with the entire world looking on, and who attacked him with a golf club and caused him to crash into a fire hydrant.
Ever since his return to the game from a self-imposed sabbatical brought on by his affairs, Woods has never really looked like winning another major. But the saddest sight of all has been of a man who once the best in the world at his art, hobbling around mediocre golf course in 80-plus shots, hitting drives almost 100 yards off target and fluffing chips and bunker shots in the manner of a 24-handicapper.
He believed from the outset that if he was to better Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors, then he would have to be fitter than anybody else, stronger than anybody and hit the ball further than anybody else. It meant that he put his body through a punishing fitness regime. Not only that, but his swing also put tremendous strain on his back and leg muscles - it is surely no coincidence that those are the very areas where he has suffered in recent times.
Rocco Mediate, of all people, believes he can save Woods' career. Mediate was the man who took Tiger to 91 holes before succumbing to the great man at the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines. It was later discovered that Woods played much of the tournament with a broken leg. The thing is that Mediate has himself suffered chronic back pain and had to change his swing to overcome it - after doing so, he went on to achieve some of his greatest successes.
It is impossible to imagine that Woods would ever want to swing a golf club in the way that Mediate does. Part of his problem has been his obsession with wanting to change his swing, moving from one coach to another, each with his own ideas about the great man should swing the club, and each new swing putting strains on different parts of his body. I have no axe to grind on behalf of Butch Harmon, but I can't help but wonder if it would have ended this way had the two remained together?
Woods changed the game forever - without him, do you really think that we would now be watching so many professionals routinely smashing the ball 310 yards? Of course we wouldn't. He showed that fitness could make a difference - and he is now paying the price for all that blood, sweat and tears, for turning himself into the ultimate athletic specimen.
I will always remember the man who left the world of golf speechless when he won the 1997 Masters in record-breaking fashion after playing the first nine holes in 40 shots. I feel privileged to have watched Woods destroy the world's best golfers at Pebble Beach in the US Open and at St Andrews in The Open. My lasting memories will be of the golfer who held all four majors at the same time and who won The Open at Hoylake using his driver just once in 72 holes.
I prefer to remember the genius, the man who could will 12-feet putts into the hole, whose name on leaderboards scared the living daylights out of his rivals. I do not want to witness ever again a man chasing shadows, taking 80-odd shots to cover golf courses he once owned. If this really is the end, I feel blessed to have been around to watch him in action. I forgive him his transgressions off the golf course, and I even forgive the spitting, the swearing, the lack of empathy with the fans who idolised him.
History will judge him on the number of majors he won. He secured 14 in 11 years - just think of that for a moment. My most fervent hope, if it is now truly all over, is that Woods spends the rest of his life sharing his gifts, helping to spread the word about this astonishing game.
He will be missed. He will never be forgotten.
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