This guy exists for the major tournaments. He obsesses with winning five more to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 to become the undisputed best golfer of all time. So, of course, he was going to play at Augusta National. And he’ll announce this week that he will.
He pulled himself out of competition not so he could win tournaments in between the majors. Woods worked on his ailing back and practiced in secrecy because his game was not major-ready.
It’s one thing to embarrass himself as he had this year with anemic performances, especially his short game. But they were all just tune-ups for the Masters.
For sure, winning on tour matters to him. But he has 79 career wins, almost double that of Phil Mickelson (42) and just four shy of eclipsing Sam Snead for the most in history. So, clearly, he’s won on tour at a rate so high 10 years ago that observers wondered aloud if it was good for the sport.
That is not a concern any longer. Woods dropped out of the top 100 golfers in the world for the first time this week, to No. 104, which is more remarkable than it is sad.
There are not 103 golfers who are better than Woods. But there are 103 golfers who have played better than him recently, and even that is stunning. Think about this for a second: While still at the peak of his physical prowess, Woods has gone from the overwhelming, undisputed top golfer in the world to the 104th.
There are probably 95 golfers ranked ahead of him that you never heard of. For Woods, this has to be devastating. He will talk about injuries and swing changes and the sort. But when he was right, he was better than the rest when not healthy and while undergoing tweaks to his swing.
If it was not mental for Woods before, it has to be now. At least a little. He lost his intimidation factor a few years ago. He has faltered on Sundays like a paper fan. He’s bowed out of tournaments frequently because of injury. Can he trust his swing? Can he trust his body? Can he pull off the shot in the clutch when needed?
Those questions have to work on the brain. But this question has been the most telling of Woods’ fall: Can he make the cut?
Whether he would be good enough in the first two rounds to play the weekend was never a question pre-collapse. But pundits, who, by the way, quietly are not that sad about Woods’ descent, now wonder on television and in print if he can survive to get to the last two rounds of a tournament. That’s a significant fall.
Why would golf observers be almost happy Woods has been mostly miserable of late? Because he, while cordial, never really let them into his world. Because he let them know when he did not appreciate being psychoanalyzed by former golfers who couldn’t hold his jock (if golfers wore them). Because he took control of his career and played the tournaments he wanted, not the ones they wanted him to play. Because he refused to be their puppet and operated on his own terms.
So they smile, at least to themselves, as he struggles to regain a semblance of the game he once had. Word is that his practice at home at the Medalist Golf Club has been outstanding and he’s looking more to form.
That may be true, but it’s not Augusta National, with the glass-like greens and huge galleries and immense pressure. But it is enough for Woods to go back out there and give it a go. The majors are the only thing that matters to him now.
He has money. He has championships. He wants Nicklaus’ record. To pass up a chance to get another major would be so unTigerlike. So, Black people, you can watch the Masters now.