Tiger turns 40 fac­ing un­cer­tain fu­ture

More than slow­ing down, he’s at near halt

Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - SPORTS - By Doug Fer­gu­son

TEN days af­ter Tiger Woods turned 24, he picked up his 16th ca­reer PGA Tour vic­tory by beat­ing Ernie Els in an epic bat­tle at Kapalua.

More than win­ning his fifth straight PGA Tour event — the long­est streak since 1953 — it was how he won. They matched ea­gles on the 18th in reg­u­la­tion and birdies in the play­off, and then Woods ended it on the sec­ond ex­tra hole with a 40-foot birdie putt that was down­hill, into the grain and broke hard to the left.

Els saw the fu­ture that Jan­uary day in 2000, and it was daunt­ing.

“I think he’s a leg­end in the making,” Els said. “He’s 24. He’s prob­a­bly go­ing to be big­ger than Elvis when he gets into his 40s.”

Tiger Woods en­tered his 40s Wed­nes­day. Big­ger than Elvis? No, be­cause golf isn’t in the same galaxy as rock ’n’ roll.

But he was right about Woods be­ing a leg­end in the making, and it didn’t take long. His 15-shot vic­tory in the U.S. Open that sum­mer at Peb­ble Beach was the most dom­i­nant in 140 years of ma­jor cham­pi­onships. He had the ca­reer Grand Slam at 24 and re­mains the only player to win mul­ti­ple ma­jors in back-to-back sea­sons.

“Ev­ery­one has strengths and weak­nesses,” Adam Scott said. “We’ve only seen one bloke out here who did ev­ery­thing bet­ter than any­one else.”

His legacy on the golf course is se­cure no mat­ter what hap­pens the rest of his ca­reer, and Woods re­ferred to any­thing else he achieves as “gravy.” That struck a tone of res­ig­na­tion from Woods, who al­ways wanted to be seen as an ath­lete in­stead of a golfer and now can do lit­tle more than walk.

Three surg­eries on his lower back in just over 18 months make it hard to gauge his fu­ture.

There is a ten­dency to cel­e­brate his 40th birth­day by look­ing back, making it feel more like a re­tire­ment party. It’s an easy trap. Woods hasn’t won in more than two years, and when he won his last ma­jor in the 2008 U.S. Open at Tor­rey Pines, Jor­dan Spi­eth had just fin­ished his fresh­man year of high school.

When he turned 30, he was No. 1 in the world. At age 40, he is No. 416. When he turned pro at 20, the No. 1 player in the world was 41-year-old Greg Nor­man. Woods is 40, and the No. 1 player is 22-year-old Spi­eth.

“Where do I see my­self in the next five to 10 years?” Woods wrote in a blog on his web­site. “I am still play­ing golf at the high­est level and win­ning tour­na­ments and ma­jor cham­pi­onships. My foun­da­tion has been im­ple­mented around the globe, and we’ve helped out not just mil­lions, but when I’m all said and done with my life on this earth, it will hope­fully be bil­lions.”

From the pin­na­cle of win­ning ma­jors to the depths of in­jury, scan­dal and di­vorce, the im­pact of Woods has not changed. Golf is in a good spot with the next gen­er­a­tion of stars — Spi­eth, Rory McIl­roy, Rickie Fowler, Ja­son Day at the mo­ment — though none move the nee­dle like Woods.

The re­minder came at the Wyn­d­ham Cham­pi­onship in Greensboro, N.C., which Woods played for the first time. The tour­na­ment printed an ad­di­tional 39,000 tick­ets when he signed up, and it set at­ten­dance records each day. That doesn’t hap­pen with Spi­eth and McIl­roy. It doesn’t hap­pen with Phil Mick­el­son.

PGA Tour com­mis­sioner Tim Finchem re­called be­ing asked at Tor­rey Pines this year if he was trou­bled to see Woods strug­gling with his short game. He was com­ing off a ca­reer­high 82 in the Phoenix Open. As a fan, Finchem hated to see it. As a com­mis­sioner, he wasn’t con­cerned.

“They said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘He’s go­ing to tee it up Thurs­day morn­ing. You know any­one that’s not go­ing to be watch­ing?’” Finchem said. “Ev­ery­body wants to see what he can do. Two years from now, he comes out and starts play­ing OK — or a year from now, what­ever it is — he’ll have a huge im­pact.”

Els was run­ner-up to Woods for the sec­ond time in three months at Kapalua in 2000, and he would go on to fin­ish sec­ond to Woods three more times that year. He saw it com­ing. Els knew it was com­ing in 1996 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes when Woods con­sulted

From the pin­na­cle of win­ning ma­jors to the depths of in­jury, scan­dal and di­vorce, the im­pact of Woods has not changed.

Golf is in a good spot with the next gen­er­a­tion of stars — Spi­eth, Rory McIl­roy, Rickie Fowler, Ja­son Day at the mo­ment

— though none move the nee­dle like Woods.

him on whether he should turn pro.

Is this what he would have ex­pected 20 years later?

Woods has 79 PGA Tour vic­to­ries (sec­ond only to 82 by Sam Snead) and 14 ma­jors (trail­ing the 18 won by Jack Nick­laus). The only rea­son to sug­gest those num­bers should be higher is be­cause Woods achieved so much so quickly. The stan­dard kept go­ing up.

Woods is hope­ful his 40th year brings good health, and a chance to com­pete again. He re­mains four ma­jors short of Nick­laus — no one has ever won more than three ma­jors in their 40s. The odds are against him his­tor­i­cally, phys­i­cally, maybe even emo­tion­ally.

“If that’s all it en­tails,” Woods said in The Ba­hamas about his ca­reer, “then I’ve had a pretty good run. But I’m hop­ing that’s not it.”

KIN CHE­UNG / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

Tiger Woods has 79 PGA Tour vic­to­ries, in­clud­ing 14 ma­jors.

MIKE DE AL / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Do­minic Pi­card (68) star ted 14 games

for the Bombers in 2015.

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