Science and time make favourites of no man.
Consider the very sobering fact below, as seen in the February 12th edition of The Irish Times, about Tiger Woods, 14 time Major champion, and arguably the greatest player golf has ever witnessed:
“Woods, the world No62, shot a career-worst 82 to miss the cut at the Phoenix Open by 12 (shots) this month and was playing poorly at Torrey Pines the next week when he withdrew after 11 holes because of tightness in his back.”
This is a, if not depressing then certainly sobering stat, about a man who, from the late 90s onwards brought golf to unforeseen levels of popularity and completely changed the way the game is played.
The first memory of Woods for most people is the demolition job he carried out, aged 21, at the 1997 Augusta Masters, where he destroyed the world’s best players by a record winning margin of twelve shots, while finishing on a record total score of eighteen under. Who can ever forget the red, in- the- zone Sunday t-shirt; a custom that Woods adopted throughout his career; the adrenaline charged fist pumps and the irrepressible smile. He went on dominate the game from 1997 – 2009, until his lengthy hiatus brought about by mounting injury and his well-documented personal indiscretions, and once more in 2013. And, don’t be fooled by the argument that Tiger played in an era when the quality of the top players was much lower than the current bunch. At various times he vanquished, amongst others; Mickelson, Singh, Els, Goosen, Garcia, Scott, Duval, Furyk, Harrington, Toms, Love III, Montgomerie, Westwood; anyway you get the picture.
Tiger had two golden eras, two more than most, from 1999-2000 and 2005-2007. The former period will always be remembered as the best, when Woods became the only golfer to date to hold all four Major titles in the same calendar year. When he completed the ‘Tiger Slam’, by winning the Augusta Masters on 8th April 2001, he was twenty five years old. I say, with the certainty of a person who knows that anything could happen tomorrow, that this feat will never be matched again by one so young. Even Rory McIlroy, who has all the tools to be both the best professional golfer ever, and hold all four Major titles at once, cannot defy time to achieve this particular milestone. During this era Woods also pulled off the ludicrous achievement of winning six consecutive tournaments in a row, a feat he would then surpass in 2007 with seven straight wins. Only the legendary Byron Nelson usurped this feat, with 11 in a row in 1945.
The accumulated catalogue of niggling injuries finally took their toll in the summer of 2008, when Woods was required to undergo surgery to repair the ACL in his left knee, the joint having taken unrelenting punishment from years of generating extreme torque in his rotation. The wheels really started to come off though in August 2013. Roughly twenty years of propelling his body, to put it bluntly, like an explosive corkscrew, caused his back, always the likeliest area to scream “no more, please!”, to suffer spasms and acute pain. The litany of back complaints continued, reaching a crescendo early last year, forcing him to undergo surgery to relieve a pinched nerve, in Utah, on 31st March 2014. His sporadic appearances since have been a little sad for anyone who loved to watch Woods in his pomp and last week’s announcement signifies the epilogue of Wood’s amazing career.
Explosive from day one, incidentally about as far removed in playing style as possible from the languid Ernie Els, Tiger Wood’s swing was always going to have to evolve and ultimately the reckless disregard for the laws of physics has come home to roost.
His game always entailed extreme power, most notably from the rough, where he could explode, with unfathomable speed and control through the ball. While it’s a given that the majority of professional golfers today are generally well built and muscular it was Woods who introduced the golfer as an athlete, not just an incredibly skilled sportsman, to the world.
The body says no after a while though and despite playing a game where players can stay competitive until into their fifties, this was never going to be the case for Tiger Woods. A golfer, due to the very nature of their game is never going to ‘go out on his shield’, to borrow from boxing parlance. But when Tiger comes back swinging, which he assuredly will, it will be as a shadow of his former menacing, all conquering best. And, while his legacy is bullet proof, he knows now, better than anyone else that his body is not.