Why Tiger is stuck be­tween a rock and a hard place as his ca­reer winds down

Un­less Tiger re­turns bet­ter than ever, he’s star­ing at an un­ful­filled ca­reer, says Nick Wright.

Golf World (UK) - - The Spin -

When Tiger Woods limped off the 18th green at Tor­rey Pines in southern Cal­i­for­nia, hav­ing just won the 2008 US Open in a Mon­day play-off against Rocco Me­di­ate, it would have taken a brave man to wa­ger that his 14th ma­jor cham­pi­onship vic­tory would be his last. A lit­tle more than a decade into his pro­fes­sional ca­reer and in his phys­i­cal prime (that bro­ken leg aside), Woods looked set to dom­i­nate golf for the fore­see­able fu­ture. At the time, it would not have been too out­landish to pre­dict that, by now, he would be the undis­puted great­est player of all time with more than 20 ma­jor cham­pi­onships and 100-plus PGA Tour ti­tles to his name.

Fast-for­ward a decade, how­ever, and the record books tell a dif­fer­ent story. Not only has Woods failed to add to his ma­jor tally, he is win­less since 2013 and hasn’t com­peted – in the truest sense of the word – in a PGA Tour event since 2015. Sev­eral back surg­eries and knee op­er­a­tions, a hu­mil­i­at­ing sex scan­dal, an en­counter with the chip­ping yips and, most re­cently, an ar­rest for driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence have com­bined to cur­tail one of the great­est sports ca­reers of all time. Woods’ fall from grace has been sud­den, un­ex­pected and deep.

Tiger was a rar­ity in that he was an ath­lete who not only lived up to the mas­sive hype that sur­rounded him, but who ex­ceeded it – break­ing record af­ter record and pulling off a stream of in­cred­i­ble shots. Ev­ery­body has a favourite Tiger story to tell. Mine came dur­ing the 3rd round of the 2000 Open at St An­drews. Af­ter split­ting the fair­way from the tee at the Old Course’s no­to­ri­ous 17th hole, Tiger and his then cad­die, Steve Wil­liams, hud­dled to­gether try­ing to fig­ure out how to get to a pin that was tucked be­hind the deep Road Hole bunker. Clearly in be­tween clubs, the pair de­bated at length about whether it was a 7-iron or an 8-iron be­fore Tiger fi­nally said, “I’ll hit a two­yard draw with the 8”. The sight of the ball scream­ing into the sky and curv­ing gen­tly from right-toleft be­fore nestling along­side the flag is in­deli­bly etched in my mem­ory.

There were many other, more high-pro­file shots, of course – the mir­a­cle chip from the back of Au­gusta’s 16th green in 2005, the “bet­ter than most” triple­break­ing down­hill putt across the length of Saw­grass’ 17th hole is­land green dur­ing the 2001 Play­ers Cham­pi­onship, for ex­am­ple. Those shots epit­o­mised what we ad­mired most about Tiger – the abil­ity to pull off the im­pos­si­ble when it mat­tered most and when ev­ery­body was watch­ing. Peo­ple of­ten ask why the golf me­dia is so ob­sessed with Tiger. For the best part of two decades, the adren­a­line rush he brought to tour­na­ments was ad­dic­tive. It has been hard to let go of that feel­ing.

Per­haps the great­est privilege any top-level ath­lete can en­joy is the abil­ity to walk away from their sport at the very top of their game – leav­ing their legacy un­tar­nished and their fans with only great mem­o­ries. Sadly, it looks in­creas­ingly un­likely that Tiger Woods will be able to en­joy that lux­ury.

Given how rapidly the game has moved on while he has been side­lined through var­i­ous re­habs – emo­tional and phys­i­cal – it is ev­i­dent that Woods will now strug­gle to com­pete at the very top level. So he’s left with a dif­fi­cult choice: con­tinue play­ing and risk be­com­ing a freak sideshow to the main event in the slim hope that he can still be com­pet­i­tive, or with­draw com­pet­i­tively from golf know­ing that po­ten­tially the best ca­reer in his­tory came to an undig­ni­fied, abrupt and pre­ma­ture end. Ei­ther way, it’s un­sat­is­fac­tory.

Tiger’s fu­ture: Sideshow or un­sat­is­fac­tory re­tire­ment.

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