By Matt Cohen
Any discussion of the top two or three golfers of all-time has to include Tiger Woods. An argument can even be made that he is the greatest golfer in the history of the game. There is no questioning the impact Woods has had over the past 20 years on golf, sports and Americana.
But with Tiger’s recent announcement that he’s taking an indefinite leave of absence from the game, it’s time for golf to stop paying attention to him – at least for now.
It’s Been 7 Years Since Tiger’s Last Major
The last of Tiger’s 14 career majors came at the 2008 U.S. Open, when he defeated Rocco Mediate in one of the classic David vs. Goliath match-ups in sports history. Who would have imagined that nearly seven years later, Tiger would still be stuck on 14?
Since Tiger’s ’08 Open win, 19 different golfers have captured a major. Woods has played in 20 over that same span. Every golf fan knows how determined Tiger is to still catch and pass Jack Nicklaus. To him, anything less than winning a major is a failure.
So until Tiger is able to return and actually win one, is he really back, at least by his standards?
Tiger Woods cannot stay healthy. A golfer who can’t stay healthy can’t play. A golfer who can’t play shouldn’t be golf’s lead story day in and day out.
The injury bug has been brutal these past seven years for Tiger. Here’s a rundown of them all:
April 2008 – Arthroscopic surgery in his left knee
June 2008 – Reconstructive surgery on the ACL in his left knee
May 2010 – Inflamed facet joint in the neck
May 2011 – Sprain of the MCL ligament in his left knee and a strain to the left Achilles’ tendon
June 2013 – Left elbow strain
March 2014 – Back spasms and a pinched nerve
February 2015 – Back injury and ‘de-activated glutes’
Tiger has done an admirable job of persevering through the rash of injuries, and to his credit has fought through each and every one. But every time he returns from the shelf, the same old pundits spew out the same old “is Tiger back” drivel. The answer, more often than not, has been no. So instead of the 24/7 Tiger watch, let the man actually prove he’s healthy and playing well before we make such proclamations.
He’s Not As Good
Before coming after me with pitchforks, let’s look at the facts. Whether it’s the injuries, the ugly divorce, father time or better competition, the bottom line is this – Tiger is no longer in his prime. Now, now, no one is saying a healthy Tiger Woods stinks – that would be silly. Just two years ago, Tiger won five PGA Tour events, including The Players Championship. The year before that in 2012 he won three.
But right now at this very moment (at least before his withdrawal from the Farmers Insurance Open), Tiger Woods is arguably playing the worst golf of his career. The 82 he shot at the Phoenix Open this month? – the worst round of his professional career. Tiger’s current World Golf Ranking of 66? – the lowest since he turned pro. Say what you will about rust, Tiger Woods should not be carding rounds of 82, period.
Rory McIlroy, Others Are Ready To Take His Place
Have you heard of Rory McIlroy? He’s the number one ranked golfer in the world, has won the last two majors (and four overall) and will be going for the career Grand Slam this spring at Augusta. Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Martin Kaymer – these are just a few of the other bright young stars in the game today.
For the first time arguably since Tiger burst on the scene, golf is brimming with young talent. The game is at a place now (thanks in large part to Tiger, to be fair) where it doesn’t need him to carry the entire sport. McIlroy is a Sunday at Augusta away from becoming golf’s next immortal.
Here’s what Colin Montgomerie said last fall about both McIlroy and Tiger. “Tiger Woods is going to come back into the frame,” Mongomerie told Kicca.com regarding the 2015 Masters. “Is he going to be able to get back, not just to the levels he was but better than that? Because that’s where Rory McIlroy’s taken the standard of golf: to one level beyond where Tiger was.”
It’s Worth The Wait If He Can Come Back
This point is the most important, and really the focus of this commentary.
Tiger Woods is great for the sport of golf, and as one of the most recognizable athletes in the world, brings buzz, fanfare, money and television ratings. To that last point, just look at what happened the second half of ’08. The British had its smallest audience in 17 years and the PGA was the least-watched major in the 36 years that Nielsen had tracked ratings.
But Tiger Woods is no longer Tiger Woods, and he hasn’t been for a long time. If and when Tiger finally gets healthy and returns to top form, great! Let us all bow down and praise him as the golf god that he is. Interest in the sport would get an exponential boost. But – until that day comes, and while he’s not actually playing golf, let’s finally turn our attention to the other great golfers, moments and history being made before our eyes.