FOUR words we never expected to come out of Tiger Woods’ mouth. Four words that could well have signalled the beginning of the end for golf’s second greatest player.
In admitting he is taking an indefinite break from the sport due to his game being “unacceptable for tournament play”, Woods has confessed to himself that he no longer wears a cloak of invincibility.
The cloak of invincibility that once made it look inevitable that he’d overtake Jack Nicklaus as the most prolific major winner in the game.
The cloak of invincibility that used to make him a joy to watch for golf fans but an ominous presence for his rivals.
Hanging on a shoogly peg since his most recent major victory in 2008, that cloak just fell to the floor as Woods finally woke up to reality.
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“Right now, I need a lot of work on my game and to spend time with the people that are important to me,” he wrote on his website in the wake of a fraught fortnight, having missed the cut in the Phoenix Open then withdrawing injured from the Farmers Insurance Open after just 12 holes. He claimed the latter was not due to the back surgery he underwent last March that forced him to miss most of the 2014 campaign. I’m not so sure about that.
“My play, and scores, are not acceptable for tournament golf,” added the former world No 1. “I enter a tournament to compete at the highest level, and when I think I’m ready, I’ll be back.”
Based on the chipping yips he has suddenly become afflicted by, it could be some time before we see him again (though some experts believe that problem should be relatively easy to fix).
On the other hand, it could be as soon as a fortnight’s time because he’s not ruling out the possibility of playing in the Honda Classic. “It’s a tournament in my hometown and it’s important to me,” he stated.
Like his game, it seems as though Tiger’s head is all over the place at the moment. He shouldn’t have been at Torrey Pines on the back of his humiliation in Arizona the previous week.
Stubborn as a mule, though, he felt he could go to a venue that has so often brought out the best in him in the past and suddenly be transformed.
It’s not just chipping he’s got problems with. He was all over the shop last week, with slow-motion replays highlighting serious flaws in his swing action.
As was the case in the Phoenix Open, it was sad to watch and for all of us, even those that dislike him as a person, it’s better that he’s decided to take a time-out.
The big question now, of course, is whether or not he’ll be back in time for the Masters. Failing that, will he be at St Andrews in July for the Open?
I’d say ‘yes’ to both, but he’ll need to restore confidence with his short game if Augusta is going to be on the agenda because you don’t want to be playing around the greens there with any negativity lingering.
Tiger, of course, missed the season’s opening major last year for the first time since 1994. His absence was the main factor in ESPN’s viewing figures for live coverage dropping by 800,000 to 2million – a record low and by far the smallest audience for the first day of the Masters since that channel first started broadcasting it back in 2008.
Based on that, the game needs him to be there in April but not if his golf is still of the car-crash variety. If if takes two months to sort himself out, then take two months. Heck, take the whole year if that’s what it needs for him: a) to be fit, and b) the Tiger we know as a golfer. He said he is “committed to getting back to the pinnacle of my game” but achieving that will be harder than winning 14 majors.