End of the road for Tiger?

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Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods has announced that he is to take a break from golf. In a statement published on his website, the American, who many consider to be the greatest golfer of all time, said:

The last two weeks have been very disappointing for me…Right now, I need a lot of work on my game, and to still spend time with the people that are important to me. My play, and my scores, are not acceptable for tournament golf…I enter a tournament to compete at the highest level, and when I think I’m ready I’ll be back…I am committed to getting back to the pinnacle of my game”

Given Woods’ recent failings, such a statement was inevitable.

Since the start of last season, Tiger has competed just nine times on the PGA Tour and he can group his performances into threes – three made cuts, three missed cuts and three withdrawals through injury. Of the cuts Woods made, he finished 69th, tied 25th and tied 80th. Hardly the form of a 14-time major champion.

In his first start of 2015, at the Phoenix Open, Woods shot an 82 in the second round – his worst ever 18 hole score. He missed the cut by 12 strokes and was tied for last with a club pro. Then last week during the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, a course on which he has won eight times, Woods was forced to pull out because of tightness in his lower back.

Throughout his illustrious career, Woods has spent a record 683 weeks as world number one but his ranking has now dropped to 61, the lowest it’s been since October 1996 during his rookie year.

Woods’ physical frailness has been well documented; he’s had to deal with countless injuries since he won his last major at the 2008 US Open. Certainly, it’s been clear during his recent showings that he’s not completely healthy. As Nick Faldo has said, he has got to find a way of swinging the golf club that exerts less pressure on his spine.

But while his physical ailments are concerning, it’s the fact that he appears to have lost all semblance of his once dominant game that will be most troubling for his legion of fans to come to terms with.

His driving is wayward, his iron play is imprecise and his putts simply aren’t dropping like they used to. Most shocking, however, has been his short game. For so long a considerable strength, Woods’ chips now resemble those of a mid-handicapper as he either duffs them so that the ball barely reaches the green or thins them to send the ball racing across and off the other side of the putting surface.

Woods’ game used to be characterised by birdies, eagles and moments of divine inspiration and pure genius. But now, unplayable lies, three-putts, triple bogeys and grimaces of pain are what one expects from him. To see the man who won the Masters by twelve shots aged 21 suffering such humiliations has been painful, almost disturbing.

Woods has looked lost on the golf course. He has been searching for something that once game so easily to him, yet he’s been unable to find it.

Tiger’s swing used to be natural. Now, it’s a product of 21st Century analytical data. His new coach, Chris Como, is a firm believer that the statistics and information that are available these days can be used to greatly improve a player’s game. And he may well be right. But Bill McInerney, a well-respected coach on the PGA Tour, is one of many observers who thinks that such an approach has been detrimental to Woods who appears to have abandoned the fundamentals of what made his game great. McInerney says that Tiger needs to focus on rediscovering his touch and feel. The greatest sportsmen; Federer, Tendulkar, Jordan, Ballesteros, O’Sullivan, Messi, Woods in his prime, play on instinct. Woods of 2015 appears paralysed by confusion and fear.

Before Tiger can even think about challenging at the pinnacle of the sport again, he needs to get healthy and revive his love for the game. A period of time away should give him the opportunity, away from the intense public glare, to do that. But he needs to make sure that when he does return he is true to his word and is 100% ready. An intense spotlight trails Woods and when he does make his comeback, whenever and wherever that will be, his every shot will be analysed and scrutinised.

Tiger once transcended the sport. Those days are gone. He remains adamant, at least publicly, that he can one day return to his best. But deep down Jack Nicklaus’ record haul of 18 majors, that Woods has spent his whole career chasing, will never have felt further away.

Photograph: wikipedia

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