How the Tiger has tumbled
It’s difficult to recall a sports star who has fallen from grace as dramatically as golfer Tiger Woods.
Though it’s true he lost much of his popularity when it was revealed in 2009 he had cheated on his wife with a string of prostitutes and porn actors, I’m referring more to his bewildering decline on the golf course.
Woods was steaming towards Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 Majors crowns. He had 14 and was in his prime.
But since 2008, he has not won another Major. Until then he was averaging 11⁄ a year.
Woods continues to battle away, trying to reverse his slump, but his form is disastrous. His world ranking has plunged below 200 – this from a man who was the world’s No 1 golfer for 683 weeks.
At the US Open over the weekend, he shot 80 and 76 and missed the cut by 11 strokes.
He hit 16 fairways – 145th in the field. He hit 21 greens in regulation – 128th. He needed 73 putts in those two rounds – 151st. And his average driving length was 295 yards – 104th. He was bad everywhere. Woods has shot 80 or worse three times this year, including a bizarre 85 at the Memorial on June 7, when he trailed the field and had to play his final round alone.
He is still a big name and draws vast crowds. That makes what’s going on worse, because he is a laughing stock in the full glare of the spotlight.
At least when New Zealander Michael Campbell went through his career-ending slump, he did so virtually in private. Golf seems brutal on the nerves. David Duval was the world No 1 in 1999. Then he lost his nerve, and has never been a factor again.
Chip Beck was a top 10 golfer who shot a fantastic round of 59 at Las Vegas in 1991 and then lost his way. Soon after, he went 46 successive tournaments without making the cut.
Ian Baker-Finch, the popular Australian, won the British Open in 1991, after which his game fell apart so dramatically he had to head to the commentary box.
Other sports can be equally tough.
Russian Elena Dementieva was a fine tennis player but could never conquer her nerves on serve, dishing up ridiculous numbers of double faults.
Dementieva won an Olympic gold and reached two Grand Slam singles finals. If she’d been able to overcome her serving yips, she might have been one of the greats.
Eric Bristow, ‘‘the Crafty Cockney’’, was the world’s No 1 darts player during the 1980s but became so affected by nerves he sometimes could not let go of the dart.
Closer to home, Mark Richardson, a promising left-arm spinner, became a bundle of nerves and had to give away bowling. Instead, he turned himself into a gritty and successful opening batsman, until nerves finally got the better of him in that capacity, too.
Examples like Richardson, Bristow and now Woods remind us how vital the mental side of top sport is.
Woods is physically still capable of being a great golfer. But his mind has got in the way. He has lost belief.
That sort of damage is the hardest to repair.
Tiger Woods fell literally and figuratively at the the US Open.