There will be a lot of buzz around the golfing world after Tiger’s dominant victory at Doral last weekend. This raises the question, is he back?
In my opinion, the answer is no!
From the time he burst onto the PGA Tour in 1996, until a combination of personal problems and injuries derailed his career in 2009, Tiger won more than 70 tournaments, including 14 Majors. He averaged 6 victories, including one Major, per year. That’s the benchmark.
Coming back in 2010, he began with a promising 4th at The Masters but didn’t win that year in 15 starts.
2011 was about the same in that it was another foreshortened schedule of just 12 events but instead of finishing 2nd, this time he won his invitational, the Chevron Challenge, to sign off a disappointing year with a flourish. Self-belief was perhaps emerging.
In 2012, seemingly injury-free and getting in control of a swing change, Tiger played a schedule of 22 starts and secured three terrific wins, albeit no Majors.
And thus far in 2013, he’s started five times and now has two wins. Seems like a progression and more ammunition for those who claim, ‘He’s Back’. I say no and here’s why.
Tiger’s 2012 Victories
Let’s take a closer look at those three 2012 wins:
1. The first was the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, a course where he’d previously won in: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2008 & 2009.
2. The second was the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village, a course where he’d previously won in: 1999, 2000, 2001 & 2009.
3. The third was the AT&T National at Congressional, an event that started only in 2007 and was having its 4th visit to Congressional Country Club. Tiger also won it in 2009.
Tiger’s 2013 Victories
Jump ahead to 2013 and Tiger’s first victory was the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. Tiger had played it only once (2011, 44th) since 2008 but had previously won this tournament in: 1999, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007 & 2008. He also won the US Open at Torrey in 2008!
And finally, Tigers win at Doral last week; at a course on which he’d previously won in: 2005, 2006 & 2007.
I guess my point must be obvious by now. There is a small number of courses that absolutely suit Tiger’s game and his eye and which he loves playing.
I contend that those courses are the four I’ve canvassed above (Bay Hill, Torrey Pines, Muirfield Village & Doral) plus Firestone Country Club where he has won 7 times & Augusta National with 4xMasters wins plus two 2nd’s and a 3rd.
These six courses, among the hundred on which he’s competed, have yielded half his career victories. Talk about being in a comfort zone!
Here are my three primary rationales:
Firstly, until he starts winning on courses that are NOT on his favourites list, I say he’s not back!
Secondly, Tiger has won no Major Championships since literally and bravely limping to victory over Rocco Mediate at the US Open in 2008. That was almost five years ago. He was 32 then, he’s 37 now. Until he starts winning Majors again, or even just one, I say he’s not back!
Thirdly, those injuries. More than your average golfer, he’s always subjected his body to more torque and stress and practice than mere mortals! Until he goes 1-2 years without an injury break, I say he’s not back!
Incidentally, here’s the known injury catalogue:
1994 – Had his first knee surgery while at Stanford in 1994
2002 – 2nd knee surgery
2007 – Ruptured ACL but played on, and kept winning!
2008 – Knee cartilage minor repair
2008 – Stress fractures in tibia plus ACL repair. 8 months off
2008 – Ruptured Achilles tendon while rehabilitating
2010 – WD’s from Players with sore back, or neck
2011 – Sprains medial ligament & Achilles during The Masters
2011 – WD’s from Players with sore knee & Achilles.
It’s a fairly long list for a non-contact sportsman and pretty much all knee-related and that can ultimately create back issues. We all hope his knee holds up and doesn’t foreshorten his career and that he has the opportunity to compete for years to come.
Despite Rory’s recent emergence as heir apparent to Woods as the best golfer on the planet, Tiger is still to an extent the epicentre, the dramatist, the arrogant destroyer, the purveyor of magical long and short shots and the #1 TV drawcard.
But that aura is gradually fading. He’s no longer the certainty that he used to be when in contention going into the last day of a tournament and the intimidation factor is thus weakened. He isn’t winning Majors any longer and is able to produce victories only on a handful of his favourite courses.
Harsh judgement, perhaps, but the facts are the facts.
The Tiger of 2012 & 2013 is a much improved version of that winless warrior of 2010 & 2011 but can he take it to the next level? Can he truly get back?
Personally, I don’t like Tiger’s on-course demeanour, though that dislike is tinged with sympathy for the degree of media intrusion into his life. Also, I’m jealous of all the chicks and money he’s enjoyed!
But, like all true sports fans, I love to see a champion roll back the years! Do you recall:
- Muhammad Ali at 32 knocking out 25-y-o destroyer George Foreman?
- Michael Jordan at 35 leading the Bulls to his 6th NBA title?
- 35-y-o Alfie Langer starring in Origin3 in 2001?
- 12-y-o Red Rum winning his 3rd Grand National?
To continue the ‘old warhorse’ theme, Jack Nicklaus winning The Masters at age 46 was my greatest golf memory, but a future victory by Tiger at Augusta National after all the injuries, public scandal, bullshit, hype and media cruelty, might just surpass it!
Cheers and good luck with your golf punting