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.
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.