Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Is it so long, Tiger?

It would seem that a stellar era in sports has begun to show signs of fading out over this last weekend, although these signs may have been evident for at least awhile.
It is becoming very clear that Tiger Woods has turned into an average pro golfer. The PGA and the media trumpeted his return to tour play before the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, with big spreads of stories and pictures plastered all over newspaper sports sections, television reports and websites.
Woods acknowledged the adoration by shooting a couple of 69s for the first two rounds. The problem was that way to many other players shot 66s and 65s. Woods found himself trailing the leader by five shots on Thursday and five shots again on Friday. Five years ago, Woods would have carved into the lead, and positioned himself for a familiar dominating finish.
Instead, he trailed by eight shots after Saturday's third round and wound up tied for 44th place on Sunday.
Woods' problems appear to be two-fold. The first is his putting is eratic, which shouldn't be that much of a surprise. A lot of good golfers in their mid-30s loose their putting stroke. Some find it again, others don't. Gene Littler lost his putting edge but found it much later when he was in his 40s. Same with Tom Kite.
Anything inside of 10 feet used to be automatic for Tiger. Not anymore.
The second factor is that a new generation of players is taking over the PGA tour. Woods suddenly has much stronger competition, especially in the bigger tournaments. The leaderboard at Torrey Pines had Rider Cup players all positioned ahead of Woods. No longer is it David Duval or Sergio Garcia or Fred Couples, players that Woods would flick away in one round.
Now it is Bubba Watson, Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Jonny Vegas, Dustin Johnson, and yes, Phil Mickelson, all of whom not only can outdrive Woods but also out-putt him.


add Tiger: In 1983, the late Jim Murray wrote a column in the L.A. Times that said Jack Nicklaus was finished. This was based on the fact that Nicklaus had not won a tournament of significance for some time and was steadily falling in the money rankings. Murray wrote the column after Jack, who at the time was 43 years old, finished second behind Hal Sutton at the PGA Championship at Riviera Country Club.
Until he starts winning again, it will be interesting to see who in golf media will have the courage to say the same thing about Tiger Woods?

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