July 19 — As one of the first golf pundits to point out publicly that the emperor had no clothes, Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski stirred up a buzzing of vuvuzelas by suggesting that Tiger Woods’ dominance on the golf course may be O-V-E-R.
Writing off Tiger. “As far as I can tell NOBODY is writing off Tiger Woods,” Posnanski typed. “And, frankly, by all the available evidence, we SHOULD be writing off Tiger Woods.”
Posnanski’s SI colleague, Alan Shipnuck, concurred. “Tiger’s body is breaking down,” Shipnuck posted on his Twitter feed Monday. “So’s his putting. His life’s a mess. Everyone else is stepping up.”
Oh, is that all?
Dead wrong. Opinions flying around the blogosphere were all over the place after Woods struggled to finish in 23rd place at last week’s British Open.
MSNBC.com’s Mark Celizic blamed rehab for Woods losing his “sense of invincibility,” Waggle Room’s Ryan Balengee was unwilling to write Woods’ obit just yet, Golf.com’s Michael Rosenberg believed those writing off Woods were “dead wrong,” and Jamie Samuelsen of the Detroit Free Press could not have disagreed more with Posnanski.
“The reports of Tiger Woods’ death are greatly exaggerated,” blogged Samuelsen, who stuck to his ardent belief that Woods would break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships.
Samuelson’s reasoning? Woods almost won the Masters after his four-month furlough, he may not scare other golfers anymore but he should still be a first-round fantasy draft pick, his personal life was not an issue, he was not too old, and he was, well, Tiger Woods.
All right, then. Case closed.
Except that Samuelsen’s argument was as full of holes as Woods’ golf game.
Where’s Tiger? Is it not clear to everyone that the Tiger Woods who has teed it up in seven 2010 tourneys and failed to win a single one is not the same player he was? Few and far between are the satisfied twirling of the clubs, the in-your-face fist pumps, and the mystique that Woods used to crush his opponents into submission.
Indeed, after finishing well back in the pack to Louis Oosthuizen’s Tiger Woods-like march to victory at the Open Championsip, the actual Tiger Woods could do little more than wonder how to tame the yips.
Stunningly mediocre. It’s safe to say that, since his well-publicized return from his equally well-documented self-imposed exile, Woods’ play has been anything but commanding. More accurately, it has been “stunningly mediocre,” observed Posnanski.
More troublesome for Woods than his 0-fer-2010 may be the fact that he has been irrelevant, other than as the object of the increasingly frequent, “What happened to Tiger Woods?” post-tourney discussion. There was the missed cut, a mysterious neck injury “that he has barely mentioned since,” and Woods’ “stunningly bad and unfocused golf” as defending champ of the AT&T National, said Posnanski.
Second best. How about those fourth-place closes at the Masters and U.S. Open? chirped Samuelsen. Throw in Woods’ 23rd at St. Andrews and you got an average finish of 10th place, which Samuelsen argued was “still the second-best [to perennial runner-up Lee Westwood] of any player this year.”
That’s damning with faint praise a guy who was supposed to make a serious charge this year on Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major titles, especially with two contests at Woods’ personal stomping grounds, Augusta National and Pebble Beach.
Not to worry, Tiger fans. “He’ll get there,” reasoned Samuelsen, who also blew off the excuse that Woods’ private affairs were affecting his golf.
Focused and determined. “We’ve seldom seen an athlete who was more focused and more determined than Tiger Woods, and I doubt that changes moving forward,” Samuelsen said.
Would that be the same Tiger Woods who has struggled around courses he used to own?
Too old? For Posnanski, one of the most pressing issues was Woods’ age. The still top-ranked golfer will be 35 in December, which may put Nicklaus’ record out of reach.
Sure, Nicklaus and Gary Player defied their ages, and Posnanski conceded that Woods could do so as well. He would, however, be a rare exception to the over-35 rule.
“I don’t know why we would just ASSUME that he is like Nicklaus or Player,” Posnanski wrote.
Everybody’s favorite 34-year-old. Gimme a break, argued Samuelsen. “He’s only 34. Nicklaus won his final major at 46,” he wrote. “He has more talent than anyone on tour. He has more closing ability than anyone on tour. And he remains a favorite every time he plays.”
No doubt, some oddsmakers will pick Woods, despite the obvious flaws in his game, to win next month’s PGA Championship. But Samuelson’s use of the present tense to describe Tiger’s erstwhile attributes was baffling.
One need look no further than Woods’ god-awful putting at St. Andrews. Tiger played so badly on the greens that he switched putters before and during a major championship.
How it works. Gone was Woods’ “steely nerve over the 10-foot putts that he HAD to make,” Posnanski wrote. “If he stops making those putts more than the mere mortals around him, well, he becomes one of those mere mortals. That’s just how it works.”
After all, Posnanski summed up, the golf world may have seen the last of the Tiger Woods who led everyone to believe he could simply toss his clubs out on the first tee and win any tournament he entered.
Posnanski’s sobering conclusion: “Tiger Woods is a balding, 34-year-old man fighting his swing, his putter, his confidence, his past and his history.”
How unhappy was Woods with his putting at St. Andrews? Read and watch Woods drop the F-bomb after missing one during the third round of the British Open.