Unrealistic expectations dog Tiger at Olympic
This story was posted on ScoreMobile on June 18th, 2012. It is no longer available on ScoreMobile, but similar golf features will be posted there frequently. Check out http://m.thescore.com/pga/news for more info.
By Adam Sarson (Score Media)
The story felt so familiar.
Tiger Woods heading into Father’s Day weekend with a piece of the lead at the U.S. Open. The player who makes the needle move more than any other was in place to break his major drought at one of golf’s most historic venues. Many had given him the title, assuming it was a foregone conclusion that Tiger would rise to the occasion once again and defeat not only the world’s best players, but the USGA and their unforgiving terrain at Olympic Club. Those who gave him the victory, some of Tiger’s most ardent supporters, forgot about one thing, the same thing everyone keeps forgetting about: This is not the same Tiger Woods.
A few months ago, he was outside the top-50 in the Official World Golf Rankings. A win yesterday would have placed him second behind only Luke Donald. He is still one of the best players in the world, with just as many wins this season as any other golfer worldwide. He has had great rounds, good rounds, bad rounds and awful rounds. In other words, he’s a professional golfer, just as likely to fire a scintillating 64 as he is to blow up and shoot a 75 on a weekend at a major championship.
This of course would have been unthinkable ten years ago. Then again, lots of things have changed in those ten years. The purses are bigger, the courses have gotten longer and most importantly, the other players have gotten better. Ten years ago, how many players would have been pegged as potential major championship contenders? At most, the answer is likely five or six. Now? That number has at least doubled. The list still includes Tiger, but the competitive advantages that he used to have over the field are now gone. He’s no longer the heaviest hitter, the best iron player or the most consistent putter. On any given day, those attributes are still present, but week in and week out? Those days are over.
For the media, especially those who quietly want to see Tiger succeed; this is a difficult concept to grasp. Generational athletes like Tiger are put on a pedestal for their whole career, only to fall short of their own standards when their skills start to decline. Muhammad Ali, Willie Mays, Wayne Gretzky and Emmitt Smith are just a few of many who couldn’t keep playing at the highest level. But, the media, with the endless line of “Tiger’s back” or “Tiger’s done” stories, don’t seem to grasp the real issue at play.
Tiger is 36 years old. He has had four surgeries on his left knee and dealt with scandal that ruined his personal life. The list of major winners over the age of 35 is a short one, and his window to eclipse Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 majors is starting to close. He knows this better than anyone. There is no athlete on this planet that is more dogged in the pursuit of his goals than Tiger Woods. He’s not as good as he was, and never will be. The days of a superhuman Tiger Woods are not coming back, but you won’t see him fall into a pit of despair either. He still hits shots that most others can’t, and still draws crowds like no one else, but the customary consistency has started to fade.
Throughout his final two rounds on the weekend, analysts and commentators mentioned that his lackluster play over the last two days was unexpected, and something we weren’t used to seeing. If anyone has been paying attention over the last few years, this is exactly what we’ve been seeing. Flashes of greatness clouded by moments of poor shots and frustrated reactions. The fact that he had a share of the 36-hole lead in a major shouldn’t hide the fact that this inconsistency has become Tiger’s new consistency.
There will be a day when Tiger Woods wins another major, much like him winning at Bay Hill and Memorial earlier this year. How many more will he win? No one knows, but to count him out or assume that he’ll break Jack’s record are both ridiculous suggestions. It’s time that we stop looking at what Tiger Woods was, and instead focus on what he is: One of the world’s best, who still has many chapters to write in his incredible story.