Before I get into the nitty gritty, I have to point out that Tiger Woods can do no wrong in my mind. To me, he is/was the most dominant athlete of the modern era, and no Federer fans, it’s not even close. However, after yesterday’s withdrawal from The Players Championship, I am sad to say that Tiger’s stranglehold over the game of golf is officially over, and he will finish his career without eclipsing Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships, something he was destined to do since his birth.
Tiger will not pass Jack due to a combination of forces, some of which he will have no control over. First and foremost, the PGA tour is astonishingly deeper now than it was from 1997 to 2008- Tiger’s prime. There are a number of young players such as Rory McIlroy, Anthony Kim, Dustin Johnson, and Rickie Fowler, who hit the ball long and straight. Although none of these players have won a major championship thus far, they have come agonizingly close (McIlroy: 2011 Masters, Johsnon: 2010 PGA Championship), and I expect all of them to have a breakthrough sooner rather than later. More important is the fact that none of these young bloods have had a traumatizing experience with Tiger on the course. The importance of this cannot be emphasized enough- as many a golfer has never recovered from a Sunday letdown when paired in the same group as Tiger.
Additionally, the balance of power in the PGA has shifted considerably from America to Europe. Europeans won two of the four majors in 2010, and six of the top ten players in the world are European. Players such as Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell, Paul Casey, and Ian Poulter are all either in their late 20’s or early 30’s, which is when a golfer typically reaches their prime. Although out of the five players mentioned above, only McDowell has won a major championship, Westwood and Donald have consistently been in contention over the past two years, and I believe they will be rewarded for that consistency in one of the year’s three remaining majors. Europe was dominant in its Ryder Cup victory over America this past September, and with a good mix of players both young and experienced, expect Europe to control the tour for the next 5 years.
Next, it is surprising that more people do not realize this because of Tiger’s great work ethic, but Tiger is quickly getting up there in age and it is starting to show. Tiger is 35 going on 36, and his body is not in the prime condition that it used to be. Tiger had one of the most powerful swings in recent memory and that has finally caught up to him. His ongoing knee and ankle problems prevent Tiger from generating torque from his lower body, which enables him to hit the ball far. If Tiger cannot consistently hit the ball far over the next 5-6 years, there is no way he will pass Jack’s record. The major championship venues are getting longer and longer, and with more and more players being able to boom it now, there is going to be a premium on hitting it long and straight. Tiger’s competitive advantage before was that he would outdrive everyone by 30-50 yards and have a short iron coming in to the green. It seems that is no longer the case.
Finally, from a mental perspective, Tiger no longer seems to be entirely there. Before his scandal, Tiger was always the most focused player in any given tournament, and nothing could distract him. He had a one track mind: WIN. If he had a bogey, he did not let it affect him like it affects other players. Now, it seems as if TW has a storm brewing in his head. As Bubba Watson said last week in an interview, Tiger is not playing golf anymore- he is too focused on getting his swing right, as opposed to swinging the club freely. Tiger does not seem to be fully confident in his new swing, which is why we always see him going through various movements during a round. I am not entirely positive that Tiger will ever be confident in his new swing. His body is not letting him play in more competitive tournaments, which is the best environment to test out a new swing and see how it holds up under pressure.
From a competitive standpoint, Tiger has 5-6 years of golf left in him. His body is deteriorating quickly, which is hindering his ability to play in more tournaments and fine tune his swing. He no longer has a mental edge over the rest of the field, as the younger players have no scar tissue from playing with him and the experienced players see him in a vulnerable position. He physically cannot outperform the rest of the field, as players are hitting it longer and straighter. Tiger needs to win 5 majors to pass Jack’s record- one major in each of the next 5 years. After what I have witnessed so far this year, I do not see Tiger putting together 4 good rounds over the course of a tournament. His body won’t let him; his mind won’t let him; and other players won’t let him.
Eldrick, please prove me wrong.