IF THE GREATNESS WINDOW IS CLOSED FOR TIGER HE’D BE THE RULE RATHER THAN THE EXCEPTION
By Ron Sirak • @ronsirak
April 21, 2017
Word that Tiger Woods now has as many back surgeries – four – as he does Masters green jackets was sad, but it should not be surprising. The greatness window doesn’t stay open forever and if that window has closed for Woods it would be well within the normal career-span of a great golfer.
Eleven men have won seven or more major championships. Throw out the two exceptions who prove the rule – Jack Nicklaus won majors 24 years apart and Gary Player 19 – and the average run for male major winners is 10.1 years.
Nine women have won seven or more majors. Throw out three exceptions – Patty Berg, 21 years; Betsy Rawls and Juli Inkster both 18 years – and the average run for a female major winner is 10.6 years.
Tiger won his 14 majors in an 11-year span. Maybe time simply ran out on him. Of course, Woods could become an exception to the longevity rule, but Nicklaus, Player, Berg, Rawls and Inkster did not face the physical issues of Woods, or the other components of the perfect storm that shipwrecked him.
Check out these numbers:
Among men, Ben Hogan, Tom Watson, Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Phil Mickelson and Byron Nelson won five to nine majors in six to nine years.
Among women, Mickey Wright, Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, Inbee Park, Pat Bradley, Se Ri Pak, Betsy King, Kathy Whitworth and Yani Tseng won five to 13 majors in three to 11 years.
What Woods did between 1997, when he won the Masters by 12 strokes in his major championship debut as a pro, and 2008, when he won the U.S. Open on a broken leg in a playoff after a miracle putt on the 72nd hole, was as astounding as the achievements that bookended them.
In his first 46 majors as a pro, Woods won 14 and finished in the top-10 on 15 other occasions. What has happened since that last major – and in June nine years will separate us from that spine-tingling tourney at Torrey Pines – is just as remarkable in a more painful way.
With Tiger almost certainly out for all the 2017 majors, by the end of this year the numbers will read like this: In the 38 majors since the 2008 U.S. Open, Woods will have failed to finish 72 holes in half of them – skipping 13 and missing the cut in six.
Perhaps more puzzling is this: In the first 17 majors Woods played after Torrey, he finished in the top-six nine times without winning. And on many occasions he went into the weekend with a chance to win without getting the job done.
- In 2009, he had a two-stroke lead after 54 holes in the PGA Championship but closed with a 75 to finish second to Y.E. Yang.
- In the 2011 Masters, Woods was three back going into the weekend but shot 74 on Saturday and ended up T-4.
- At the 2012 U.S. Open, Tiger was tied for the lead after 36 holes but faded to T-21.
- And at the 2013 British Open, Tiger was two back going to the final round, closed with 74 and finished T-6.
For more than a decade, Tiger pulled off countless miracle shots – 6-iron out of the bunker at the Canadian Open; 4-iron out of the bunker at Hazeltine in the PGA Championship; the chip-in on No. 16 at the Masters that doubled as a Nike ball commercial; the “better-than-most” putt at The Players – and made more momentum-maintaining par-saves than any golfer in history.
But then the magic ran out. Yes, there were injuries. There was an embarrassing scandal. And there were perhaps the words of too many swing coaches rattling around in Tiger’s head. But don’t underestimate the magic factor.
Late in 1997, at the end of Woods’ first full year on the PGA Tour, I asked him how the Tigermania travelling circus that followed him from tournament to tournament impacted him. Tiger said: “By the U.S. Open I was mentally tired and by the PGA Championship I was physically tired.”
I asked how that impacted his play and Tiger said: “I lost my ability to will things to happen.”
Those words coming from just about anyone else would have prompted me to throw the BS flag. But I had already seen enough magic from Woods to feel that at times he could will things to happen.
I asked for an example of when he willed something and Woods replied, “35th hole of last year’s U.S. Am. I wasn’t going to allow myself to miss that putt.”
Indeed, I was there at Pumpkin Ridge in 1996 when Tiger holed a 35-foot birdie to rally from 5-down and eventually win the U.S. Amateur for the third straight year in a 38-hole battle with Steve Scott.
And yes, Woods willed that ball into the hole on the 72nd hole of the 2008 U.S. Open to catch Rocco Mediate and he willed that ball he pointed into the hole in his 2000 PGA Championship triumph over Bob May.
But over the last nine years, putts that once lipped in now lipped out. The impossible up-and-down regularly converted became a painful array of chunked and bladed chips. The other guy pulled off the big shots, the important shots.
Even if Woods becomes healthy enough to again play championship golf, you have to wonder this: Has all the magic been used up? One thing we know for sure: Whatever comes next, Tiger has left us with memories that will last as long as they talk about golf even if that window is now closed.