Tiger certainly has no shortage of fatal flaws it seems. The latest chapter in the saga, “Will Tiger Ever Win Again,” played out in especially sad fashion this morning. By the time most people got around to their morning internet shuffle, Tiger was already well over par at the Players. He made a seven on the fourth hole after dunking two balls into the water, and from there stumbled in for a 42 on the front nine–a shocking score for someone of Tiger’s caliber, regardless of his form.
As gruesome as the number was, I for one, could not look away and settled in to see what kind of history Tiger could make. If Tiger has a round in the 80s as a professional, it came at a wind and rain-swept British Open venue, but his rounds anywhere near 80 in reasonable conditions can be counted on one hand (This is a guy who went YEARS without even missing a cut). He shot a 79 at Quail Hollow last year, but a nice round 80 is something entirely different. I admit I pay an unusual amount of attention to the bottom of the leader board. Sometimes you see some interesting things down there. That’s where John Daly blows up, where David Duval makes his interesting bogeys, and where Monday qualifiers and over-matched sponsor invites light up the board with a sea of doubles.
Tiger is foreign to this territory, which makes it all the more captivating. When he bogeyed the ninth hole (a par five) after being just off the green in two shots, it really looked like the train had derailed. A thirty-seven on the back nine seemed too tall an order. I had a feeling Tiger was headed toward a humbling bit of history, but then he withdrew. The second straight year he pulled out mid-round at Sawgrass. If you remember last year, it was that peculiar neck ailment. This year, it was the knee and achilles tendon issue that had sidelined him last week, and perhaps his pride as well?
I know Tiger is hurt. You can see it on his face during the round, but this is a guy that won the U.S. Open on one leg. The Players is a far cry from the U.S. Open, but I have to think if Tiger managed a 35 or 36 on the front nine, he’d still be out there. He’d tough it out, see how things feel tomorrow at the very least. But, when you are already 11 or 12 shots back and you’ve only been out there for two hours, it doesn’t make much sense risking further damage to what is becoming an increasingly brittle frame. It robbed us all of some, will Tiger shoot Jerry Rice or higher, but in the end no surprise at all that Tiger is sitting out.
I think Tiger’s injuries have officially surpassed his swing issues and mental strength at this point in his “recovery.” The injuries are what forced him to change his swing in the first place, so even though his putting woes and some other things may be mental, Tiger is really just breaking down physically before our eyes. His decline is reminiscent of an NFL running back. Like I said before, last year it was a nagging neck and shoulder problem, now it’s the always troublesome left knee. He simply can’t get anywhere near 100% health.
And, Tiger has always been a worker. Sure, he’s a natural talent, but he also put in incredible amounts of time on the range. He physically can’t do that anymore. He can’t practice at all right now. The guy was walking around in a protective boot after the Masters, hardly touched a club for about a month, and now pulls out after nine holes this week. Forget about winning, when will Tiger be able to hit balls for three or four hours straight again? I’m sure his camp will be especially mum about this as always, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the severity of things forced them to say something. The Memorial is in a few weeks, the U.S. Open is about a month away. I don’t see how Tiger is ready to be a factor in either of those events. The guy needs repetition to rebuild confidence, the belief in his own game, but his body isn’t holding up to the beating any longer.