News & Opinion

It’s time for Tiger Woods to face reality

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods fails in 2020 to reclaim his winning form.

His health won’t allow him to get his game in tournament shape, and it shows in his results, so Woods should call off the ruse

Tiger Woods will turn 45 at the end of next month, and he will be a very old 45. In golf years, he might be downright elderly. He has a chronically bad, surgically repaired back, and if we’re all realists here, perhaps it’s time for Woods to make it official and just retire.

Many people, especially Woods, are likely to disagree, and that’s entirely understandable. But if we face facts, the end of Woods’ career is upon us, and his recent finish at the Masters is a perfect microcosm of where the great man is at present.

He made a 10 on the 155-yard, par-3 12th at Augusta National in the final round of the Masters. A 10. A full-on, 25-handicap, chop-it-to-absolute-mush 10. He hit it into the water with his tee shot, hit his third from some 50 yards or so into the water, his fifth all the way into the back bunker, his sixth from the bunker back into the water, his eighth on the green and two-putted for a smooth 10.

And the cause was certainly and entirely mental. Nothing more. He didn’t hit three balls into the water because of his back. He did it because he lost control of the situation between his ears. He looked totally helpless. In fact, it wasn’t entirely clear that he could get out of the bunker by himself.

Woods is arguably the most mentally tough golfer of all time, and the nearly 45-year-old Tiger simply went brain dead for about 20 minutes. You can’t make a 10 on a 155-yard hole any other way.

Woods with his full complement of mental capacity never would have allowed such a thing to happen. When he won the Masters in 2019, four players squarely in contention for the title hit their tee shots into the water at the 12th. Woods hit well left of the right-side flag, into the middle of the green, which is probably where he won his fifth green jacket.

Mental fuzziness happens all the time to golfers his age. Ask Phil Mickelson how difficult it is to focus properly and completely for 72 holes. It’s why Champions Tour events other than senior majors are only 54 holes. As golfers grow older, no matter how great they’ve been, they find that concentration is tougher for a sustained period.

But that’s not the only reason we’re reaching the conclusion of the final chapter for Woods. He is not physically able to prepare at the level to which he is accustomed. And he needs enough tournament competition to enable him to be sharp enough to contend and win. But never again will he play in two or more events in a row. He continues to insist that he needs more “reps” to get into playing shape, but you can’t get reps if you can’t play. It’s a circular conundrum, with no way out.

However, by virtue of his massive accomplishments, he’s entitled to play where he wants, when he wants and as much or as little as he wants. Of that, there is no dispute. But the truth is, he’s practically retired now. He played in only seven official events on the PGA Tour in the 2019-20 season, and don’t expect many more than that in the 2020-21 season.

He wants to win another major, but the Masters is his only best chance. He wants to win another PGA Tour event to get to a total of 83, surpassing Sam Snead for the most victories of all time.

Whether he will achieve either or both largely depends on serendipity. Woods must be physically well, mentally land in the zone for four straight days and frankly, the stars must align in perfect order for him to win another regular PGA Tour event, much less a major. And, quite naturally, Woods ignores the twin realities of the limitations of his body and the wearing down of his mind and believes he still can perform Tiger-like feats.

After the 10 on the 12th at the Masters, Woods remarkably made birdies on five of his final six holes, which is what makes him so great. He rarely stops competing. Lesser players would have limped in, doing nothing more than trying to finish and catch a plane.

And it’s those five birdies that should leave the lasting memory. He can ease into the next phase of his life and help his son, Charlie, with his golf game, like his dad did for him. And hopefully, Woods can provide his son a better example of how to be a good and decent person than Earl gave him.

He still can play in the Masters every year, a place where Woods makes magic. No one ever would say never where Woods and Augusta are concerned. Who knows? Maybe once more the roars come thundering through the pines and Woods slips his arms into a green jacket one last time.

The dreamers can dream, and the realists can insist otherwise. At the end of the day, he’s still Tiger Woods, isn’t he?

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