TIGER’S ERA IS OVER

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents - By Jaime Diaz

His body can no longer per­form at an elite level.

His­tor­i­cally, 2015 in golf will go down as a mo­men­tous year. Why? Mostly be­cause the era of the great­est player of the last 30 years – Tiger Woods – who was track­ing to be the great­est player in his­tory, ended. Those are not easy words for me to write, al­though many have writ­ten the same be­fore.

I haven’t minded be­ing late to the fu­neral. Giv­ing up on any pro­fes­sional golfer is tricky. Too many have come back from the sup­posed dead. It’s es­pe­cially fraught given the greater the player be­ing buried, be­cause the same will and skill that made them spe­cial can pro­pel amaz­ing come­backs. That’s why I’ve al­ways given Tiger a su­per-sized bene t of the doubt.To ever say Woods can’t do some­thing as­so­ci­ated with golf is coun­ter­in­tu­itive. In many ways he has been rein­vent­ing the game, or at least what’s pos­si­ble in the game, since he was a kid. Even though Woods clearly hasn’t been the same player since Thanks­giv­ing 2009, I felt he re­mained ca­pa­ble of re­gain­ing his old form, or some­thing very close.Yes, he had nag­ging in­juries, but I al­ways sensed his prob­lems in re­turn­ing to the sum­mit were pri­mar­ily men­tal. Even though he was ap­proach­ing 40, I be­lieved time and some se­ri­ous self-ex­am­i­na­tion could get him on the right track again.

Now my think­ing has changed. The mo­men­tum Woods pre­sum­ably would carry from an im­pres­sive 2013 – when he he won ve times and in­fa­mously saw his ball hit the

ag­stick and bounce into the wa­ter on the 15th at Au­gusta Na­tional – was quickly thwarted by a mi­crodis­cec­tomy in March 2014. When he came back, his play was bad. It got worse in 2015, which started with chip yips, de­scended into a spate of ca­reer-high scores and ended with two more back pro­ce­dures in re­cent months.

As Woods un­der­goes an in­de­ter­mi­nate re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, he’s be­come an ath­lete with a bad body, one that can’t per­form the pre­scribed act his sport de­mands at an elite level. Some might con­sider golf a non-phys­i­cal sport, but gen­er­at­ing with pre­ci­sion the 190-kph club­head speed that sep­a­rates the up­per tier in the pro game from the rest is about as phys­i­cal as it gets.

More than ath­letes in team sports, golfers can play around in­juries and main­tain long and lu­cra­tive ca­reers. But if the goal is to win ma­jor cham­pi­onships and be, if not the best player in the game, among the group at the top, in­juries are deal break­ers.

Woods was the best be­cause he com­bined power and touch bet­ter than any­one in his­tory. To be the best again, he will still need both. But hard swings with a back that has had three sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dures in 18 months will not be sus­tain­able. He’s a race car whose horse­power has been re­duced.

There’s an ar­gu­ment that Woods could turn him­self into a pure con­trol and nesse player, hit­ting it shorter, re­ly­ing on his steadi­ness with the irons, hon­ing his short game, do­ing a Steve Stricker. Phys­i­cally, that might be pos­si­ble. But Woods has shown in his work with his var­i­ous in­struc­tors that he gets his fun, ful ll­ment and mo­ti­va­tion from the power game. Hav­ing to give up that edge might take with it the de­sire re­quired.

The tip­ping point for me was Woods’ de­ci­sion to vol­un­teer to be a vice-cap­tain at the 2016 Ry­der Cup. Sure he says he wants to make the team and be a play­ing as­sis­tant. But to al­low him­self a full 10 months out to al­ter his mind­set from be­ing the all-in com­peti­tor he has been since grade school to be­ing okay with dis­pens­ing wis­dom on the side­lines was jar­ring and re­veal­ing. Ei­ther his body or his psy­che – or both – is hurt worse than he’s say­ing.

WITH THE WOODS ERA

OVER, it makes what comes next that much more im­por­tant. Which also helps po­si­tion 2015 as mo­men­tous, be­cause it was a year in which Jor­dan Spi­eth proved his­toric him­self.

Ex­cept for pos­sess­ing ex­cep­tional power, Spi­eth is more like Woods than any player who ever chal­lenged Tiger. Spi­eth had a sim­i­lar de­gree of early and sus­tained suc­cess, and pos­sesses the same level of re and am­bi­tion. He wants it bad, has a plan and ex­pects to ful ll it. That Spi­eth has been close to dom­i­nant with­out be­ing long o the tee is fur­ther ev­i­dence of his out­lier spe­cial­ness.

Spi­eth over­came the om­nipresent sub­text of Woods to es­sen­tially own 2015. From the Masters to the Tour Cham­pi­onship, Spi­eth stayed on cen­tre stage, and with his 1-14-2 per­for­mance in the ma­jors, he brought back to life the pos­si­bil­ity of the cal­en­dar Grand Slam.

Un­like 2010, when Lee West­wood, Luke Don­ald and Martin Kaymer com­peted to suc­ceed Woods at No 1, Spi­eth’s feats and style have made turn­ing the page amaz­ingly easy. He, along with the other mem­bers of to­day’s true Big Three (Ja­son Day and Rory McIl­roy) could very well be writ­ing a new chap­ter.

For those and some sad rea­sons, it has been a very good year.

“Woods was the best be­cause he com­bined power and touch bet­ter than any­one in his­tory. To be the best again, he will still need both. But hard swings with a back that has had three sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dures in 18 months will not be sus­tain­able. He’s a race car whose horse­power has been re­duced.”

Boy, that hurt: In­juries and gen­eral poor play made 2015 a painful year for Woods.

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