Another major golf championship will come and go next week and Tiger Woods will not be part of it.
That means, basically, that another major will roll around and most people, including the competitors playing in the event, will not be nearly as engaged in the tournament as they would if Woods were making the trip to Royal St. George’s to tee it up.
Without Woods in the British Open, it’s still going to be exciting and someone awfully good will win. But it’s not the same without Tiger lurking. Golf, in fact, hasn’t been the same since that fateful Friday-after-Thanksgiving in 2009 when Tiger’s world began grumbling, his golf game becoming a casualty in one of the greatest self-made meltdowns sport has seen in the last 50 years.
Tiger has decided to not tee it up in the British Open next week while he continues to recover from an achilles and knee injury he suffered at this April’s Masters tournament.
It’s the right thing to do.
It’s not good for golf, but it’s good for Tiger. He can’t play if he’s not healthy. It’s that simple.
The day he announced he was skipping the U.S. Open last month, I said Woods should simply pack it in for the rest of 2011 and prepare himself for 2012 and beyond.
I stand by that statement today.
There’s no sense in playing in the PGA Championship or any of the artificial-bank-account-sweeteners the TOUR puts together in the Fall to try and keep people paying attention to golf during football season.
Woods – despite only being a half-billionaire now – doesn’t need the money, so there’s no real reason to play again until he’s healthy.
And that’s why sitting out the British Open is the right move.
It’s hard enough to win at golf when you’re completely healthy, let alone hobbling around on one leg. Yeah, yeah, I know the whole story about Woods winning the U.S. Open back in 2008 with his left leg in tatters. That was then…this is now.
Right now, Woods can’t compete in professional golf. I’m not 100% sure exactly what has happened to him over the last 17 months. I assume these injuries he’s battled are legitimate. And I know from personal experience that injuries that affect your golf swing make it nearly impossible to compete in tournament golf. But I don’t know the root cause of those injuries and there are gobs of whispers around the country that Woods might have dabbled – or more than dabbled – in performance enhancing drugs along the way when he was winning tournament after tournament and that these ailments cropping up are somehow connected to those PED’s. I don’t know if any of that is true, but at this point, I wouldn’t rule anything out.
If it somehow came out that Woods was actually a devil worshipper and his great golf over the years came as a result of selling his soul to the devil in some kind of weird backyard ritual, I’d probably believe it.
What he did from 1997 through 2008 was unlike what anyone has ever done in golf, winning 14 major championships along the way and ruining career after career of stud golfers who were run over by the Tiger train.
It’s as shocking now that he CAN’T win as it was that he was winning with such regularity at ages 22, 26, 30 and 33.
But none of that matters now, because Woods isn’t playing good golf these days.
If it all ended today, he’d wind up being the guy who was going to break Nicklaus’s record until his world blew up in his face and he couldn’t break par anymore. And maybe, just maybe, what’s really happened to Woods over the last two golfing seasons has more to do with his personal collapse then any tweaked knee ligament or achilles strain. I’d certainly buy that.
As it stands these days, most of the people out there want Tiger to fail, so they’re winning right now. And Woods, by sitting out, is not only NOT winning, he’s losing out on key opportunities to add to his 14-majors total, since there are only four of those events a year.
But it’s the right thing to do.
If I were advising Woods, I’d tell him this: “Let’s say you come back next year, at age 36, ready to play great golf again. That gives you at least 10 years – if you stay injury free – to snatch five more major titles. There will be 40 chances for you to get those five. 10 more trips to the Masters, 10 more trips to the British Open, etc. You only need to win 5 of 40.”
But he can’t win if he’s not healthy.
So staying away right now, while bad for golf, is good for Woods.
Personally – and I’m a guy that loves to wager – I’m not sure what way I’d bet right now if I had to bet that Woods will win five more major titles. I’d bet he wins at least one more — and I still think if he comes back healthy and stays that way that he can break Jack’s mark. But Tiger’s health is the key factor. No one knows what his health is going to be like in 2012, 2015 or 2020.
From a rooting standpoint, I’d love to see him get to 19 or 20 or 22. I’m a fan of record-breaking in sports and I’d like to be sitting in the front of the TV someday down the road when he makes a 6-footer to win at Augusta and claim major title #19.
But I’m smart enough to know those major crowns are hard to win. You know what Davis Love III, Corey Pavin, Fred Couples and Paul Azinger all have in common? Well, they have two things in common. They were all GREAT players. And they all won exactly ONE major title. Woods has 14 of them.
And 14 might be his final number. No matter what his most ardent supporters think or say, there’s a real chance he won’t win another major. Like I wrote above, I’d bet that he DOES win one, but if there’s one thing I know about golf it’s this: you never know what’s going to happen. Just ask Greg Norman.
Then there’s the heightened discussion about all of these great young players. All of that talk – about the upgraded competition these days – is just that…it’s talk. The only thing that matters in golf is winning major titles. Talking about how great someone is doesn’t give him the trophy. Putting the ball in the hole is all that matters. That’s the best part about golf. Anyone can win, but it’s hard to do consistently. In the last year or so since Woods faded from the scene, a bunch of guys like Schwartzel and Oosthuizen and Kaymer have won championships that Tiger owned when he was playing well. But they haven’t won more than one. And while I actually think Rory McIlroy is better than any of those three, I laughed my butt off at the U.S. Open when Padraig Harrington started talking about McIlroy “catching Jack”.
McIlroy needs to catch Nick Faldo first – who has six – and then people can start talking about “what’s next?” for him.
No one in the last 25 years has won more than six except Woods.
So McIlroy should fry the Faldo fish first…then take on the next challenge.
But in the meantime, it would be cool to see a healthy Woods return to the scene and take on the likes of Rory and Kaymer and Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson and anyone else who wants to “be the man”.
Because — well, you know the saying — to “be the man, you gotta beat the man.”