Tiger Woods has finally become one of us — except he’s about a billion dollars richer.
A week after finishing dead last in the Phoenix Open, the greatest golfer of our generation withdrew Thursday from the Farmers Insurance Open after 11 holes, citing a bad back. At the time, he was slapping it around, on his way to another inflated, over-par score.
Woods constantly has been hampered by numerous hurts since winning his last major in 2008. He’s had major knee problems and other assorted ails, one of those being a bruised psyche.
The PGA Tour has to be in a state of hysterical panic. Tiger is its cash cow, its golden goose. No Tiger means no ratings. If Tiger had been in the hunt on Sunday, the ratings would have been through the roof. But with Tiger out, the needle may not even move. The story will be buried on Page 4 under the National Hockey League roundup, limited to a couple of paragraphs.
It’s been a stunning fall from grace. Ten years ago the so-called experts were predicting 25 or 30 major titles. When Tiger entered a tournament, everybody else was thought to be playing for second place. When he wore his shark-blood red shirt on Sundays, everyone else cowered. It was Tiger Woods’ world, the other golfers were just bit players.
Then he started to have off-the-course problems. There was the infamous wreck outside of his home. There was the divorce. Tiger was a man about town and golf started to become secondary to wandering eye.
Last week had the sports world gasping. Here was Tiger Woods, spraying it around into bushes, bunkers and backyards. He was chunking chips and blading balls like a common ham and egger on the driving range. About the only thing he didn’t do was hit a lateral and send his playing partners scrambling, which sometimes happens in my group. He looked like he didn’t belong. It was like Michael Jordan scoring seven points in an NBA game, Clayton Kershaw being roughed up for seven runs in two innings or Payton Manning throwing seven interceptions against the Oakland Raiders.
But the 39-year-old Tiger is learning what the rest of us already know — Father Time is undefeated. No matter how fit and how sculpted Tiger is (or was), his body is breaking down. A knee here, a back there. Tiger was walking like, well, me on Thursday, gimping around like a broken-down horse.
I’ve been saying that Tiger is setting all of us up, that with the snap of his fingers he’s going to be the Tiger of old, holing out for improbable birdies with his customary fist pump, striping 320-yard drives that split the fairways and collecting birdies like I collect bogeys.
But now I’m not sure. Tiger has had so many coaches and so many people telling him what to do and how to fix his game, his mind is a jumbled mess. He’s trying to be so technically perfect that’s he just not playing. See the ball. Hit the ball. That’s what Tiger needs to do.
That and get healthy once and for all. Tiger missed most of last year and it’s starting to look like he might be a cameo player again this year. Never mind worrying whether or not Tiger is going to win another major. Now he needs to worry about making a cut. It’s going to be baby steps.
If Tiger is indeed kaput, the PGA could go the way of boxing and horse racing, sports that used to be at the forefront of our consciousness. Nobody wants to shell out big money to see players like Michael Block or Roger Sloan (yes, they are on the PGA Tour). They don’t want to see Tiger Woods play like Willie Mays when he was 42 years old for the New York Mets and stumbling while chasing a fly ball.
Golf without Tiger would be like golf without Jack and Arnie. They are all one-name guys. No Tiger means no names.