Tiger’s second coming or just a middle-aged man working on his game?
“Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy,” wrote F Scott Fitzgerald, apropos of nothing much, but the karma career of Tiger Woods may be what he had in mind.
When he won the US Open on one leg in 2008 – TWO-THOUSAND AND EIGHT – it felt like he was literally hopping along to GOATdom. Nine years later and we are still waiting.
He has occasionally popped his head out from behind the velvet curtain – there were five PGA tour wins as recently as 2013 – but it feels like we have never actually got to a fully functioning Tiger 2.0.
Yet we are still waiting, and in the most part hoping. In recent weeks we have been teased with what feels like a campaign of social media drops akin to a new album coming from your favourite band: we hear a rough cut on YouTube, we read a review, we hear from the band.
So this is it then. This is Morning Glory, Nevermind, Second Coming. He’s back, we’re all back. The recession never happened. Eternal youth is upon us and it will after all be 1994 forever.
But we don’t know that, do we? We are wracked, as he is, by doubt. No one really has the faintest idea what is going to happen with Tiger. Maybe least of all the man himself.
So let’s consider the whys and the wherefores and the what-have-yous.
What I hope will happen
The USGA likes to mix things up. In 2018, their chief executive Mike Davis sets up a bone-dry course at 6,400 yards allowing Tiger to roll back the years a la Hoylake and he wins with a 4-iron and a wedge. He beats Phil Mickelson in a play-off once again crushing Lefty’s US Open dreams. Tiger remembers that he likes being the bad guy and it is like the last 10 years never happened.
In 2019 he wins the Masters in tough conditions with record high scoring. The weather is so bad on the last day they have to play in groups of three. Dressed head to toe in red, he stares down Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas who never compete seriously again, and fall out because of it.
In the 2020 Olympics, he claims gold in Tokyo and lights a fire under Olympic golf which increases worldwide participation ten-fold in the decade following.
In 2021, with the Open at St Andrews and US Open at Torrey Pines, he is unbeatable in all four majors. He retires having completed the Grand Slam, beaten Jack’s record – all before he is 45.
Then he spends his days writing about his career as an NCG columnist. (I was very clear that this is what I hope will happen…)
What I believe will actually happen
If I am forced to assess what I am seeing on the internet, there is definitely something different in his action. He is obviously protecting something. His back perhaps.
There is less zip, less outright aggression, some speed missing. So he isn’t coming back as someone who is going to bully courses and fields as he did in his pomp.
It feels like part of the reason for his stalled comebacks has been an inability to come to terms with the fact he isn’t the longest, most powerful, fittest player in the world any longer.
That has hurt him, and a desire to compete and keep up has held up his reinvention as a competitive middle-aged golfer.
Related post: Can Tiger compete again?
These latest clips though show something different. That loss of height we all worry about seems less pronounced, the stinger is back and, if Hank Haney is to believed, the ‘Big Miss’ may have been eradicated.
So, I believe he will win a major again, and I believe it will be the Open.
He has more craft, more guile, more ability to just get in done than any of the current crop bar Spieth.
Given a fair week and some ground assistance, anyone can compete at an Open. A fit 14-time major champion with three Opens under his belt who putts like God is as good a bet as anyone. If Tom Watson and Greg Norman can almost win it at 60, then Woods can certainly win it in his 40s.
Why I am wondering what is happening
I have never, ever been interested in anything other than Tiger’s golf. You can keep your scandals, your fire hydrants, your cocktail of drugs and your kiss-and-tells.
These days, everyone is putting it all our there and we lap it up. If a tour pro writes something in Notes on his iPhone we beat the retweet button to death. Millennials over-share and that suits tour pros in the entertainment business and the vanity of the press down to the ground. It is the opposite of Tiger.
So why do I feel like I am in some kind Tiger Woods version of the Truman Show? Everything he does is out there, mostly pushed by him or his team.
It is also incredibly inconsistent. One day he isn’t playing ever again, the next he is hitting stingers. We never got anything from Tiger in the past but now we get a daily scattergun of nonsense predicting his own will-he-or-won’t-he future.
Openness and a bit of flakiness are quite nice, human qualities but they are not really an asset to a returning World No. 1.
Watching Woods 2.0 let it all hang out, it feels like he is being encouraged to reinvent himself and forget many of his defining qualities.
Single-mindedness and total self-belief are not really the kinds of things that therapists, PR men, sponsors, or wives go for, but they were the essence of Woods the golfer. And that is why we loved him.
I still love him for it.