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The Old Tiger is Gone Forever

John Ziegler

The Old Tiger Is Gone Forever

Tiger Woods will likely win again. He will probably even win at least one more major, if only for old time’s sake. But despite what his recent resurgence may indicate, the Tiger we once knew is gone and is not coming back.

After winning his own “tournament” in dramatic fashion late last year and leading a European Tour event into the final round before finishing third, the golf media, desperate for their golden goose to return to his past glory, quickly heralded his rebirth. However, as a long-time Tiger watcher, it seems pretty clear to me that this is little more than wishful (almost desperate) thinking.

Before the scandal, I used to literally be Tiger’s biggest fan (back when there was fierce competition for that honor). I still consider myself lucky to have been living in the first part of the last decade when we saw what was clearly the best golf ever played in the history of homo sapiens. There was even a time when I wondered if Tiger even technically qualified as a mere human being.

But with this version of Tiger Woods, the thrill is gone and not just because we now know that as a person he is nothing remotely special. In fact, from purely a golf perspective, Tiger Woods “3.0” is usually downright boring and, even at his best, not particularly spectacular.

In his prime, even the casual fan could instantly see that Tiger was fundamentally different/better than anyone else on tour. He hit the ball farther than almost anyone and (especially in 2000-2001) his swing was both incredibly powerful and almost perfectly symmetrical. At his best, his follow through looked exactly like the mirror image of the top of his swing. While he didn’t hit every fairway, his recovery skills were so Seve-like you almost looked forward to him making the rare mistake just to see the magic which would inevitably ensue.

Today, when everything is clicking for him, he morphs into a poor man’s Nick Faldo with a little more distance. He is no longer a highlight machine waiting to be turned on, but rather just a steady contender who hits fairways and greens and makes the occasional putt. Tiger is certainly one of the best players in the world, but not significantly better than anyone else in that group and nothing really to write home about.

His swing, once a feast for the eyes, no longer inspires awe. While seemingly becoming more efficient, his swing now finishes either with the shaft pointing straight towards the sky or, when he is playing a fade, across his no longer geometrically ideal stance.

Tiger still hits it far, but isn’t close to the longest player on tour. Perhaps more disappointing, it seems as if this Sean Foley version has sapped most of the magic out of Tiger’s swing and stripped him of his prodigious powers of recovery. Even his short game doesn’t seem to create nearly the fireworks it used to and his putting is no longer the definition of clutch.

In short, as sleep inducing as golf can be to watch on television without Tiger, it is almost as dull even with him now. The biggest reason it isn’t is simply the great memories we associate with Tiger and his incredible career. Without those reminiscences, watching him would be pretty much the same as anyone else, which, in some ways, might be the most damning indictment of what he has become.

My personal view as to why this has happened is that it is mostly tied to those couple of months after the scandal broke when Tiger was in hiding. It seems pretty clear that he underwent some sort of significant mental therapy, which probably included a rather harsh tearing down of many of the belief systems which helped make him so great to begin with. In a sense, his internal hard drive was fried and then partially restored. Obviously not all of the files (including the ones labeled “magic” and “intimidation) made it through the rebooting process.

While this is all very sad and somewhat tragic, there is a bright side to it. While we will never again get to see Superman in action, we still have the fascinating spectacle of finding out what Clark Kent is capable of achieving while armed with little more than the distant memories of what he once was.

So the Tiger Woods saga will still be “interesting,” just don’t expect it to be “amazing.”

John Ziegler has played in three national amateur championships and won four private club championships in three different states, including the last two at Oakmont Country Club in Glendale. He is currently a member at Spanish Hills Country Club in Camarillo.