In a recent interview by the Fort Worth Star-Telegraph, legendary sportswriter Dan Jenkins said Tiger Woods has “lost his game and putting stroke and his head. And I’ve only seen one player lose it all and come back. That was [Ben] Hogan, who damned near died in the car wreck. He came back and won six more majors. Tiger seems more confused about it than anyone I’ve ever covered. Maybe that’s partly because it came so easy for him in the beginning…”
For a little context, Jenkins is obviously not a great fan of Woods as he also said in that recent newspaper interview that Woods beat a lot of nobodies to win most of his majors. And he said back in 2010 “never in my knowledge of history has any famous personality—in sports, show biz, or politics—ever fallen so far so fast. Tiger Woods is graveyard dead, as the Southern expression goes.”
I’m not sure I buy Jenkins’ view that Tiger beat nobodies to win his 14 majors, second only to Jack Nicklaus, when you consider players like Phil Mickelson, Payne Stewart, and Ernie Els, among others, were pretty tough customers. But I agree with the 85-year-old Jenkins, who has covered a lot of great golfers, that Woods is done as the king of golf, never to reclaim his title.
Woods is now 156th in the world rankings, one spot ahead of Wade Ormsby (who?). Tiger showed signs of recovering a bit in 2013 with five wins, but the post-scandal Woods is no longer a threat in today’s golf world led by young studs like Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, and Rickie Fowler, and many more too numerous to list here.
During his sensational run, Woods won 79 PGA titles, second only to Sam Snead, and has an estimated net worth of $600 million. Not bad but he seems pretty much finished at age 39 and his crash was, as Jenkins said, unprecedented.
So while Woods struggles to do something on the golf course and with his life, McIlroy, Spieth, and Fowler are capturing the golf world with their terrific play and youthful daring. In a way, Tiger and Jack Nicklaus and many of the greats before them are reincarnated with today’s sensational young crop of tour pros who evoke memories of the past greats even as they lay claim to their own legacies. Woods should have had four or five more prime golf years ahead of him to compete with the young studs, but as Jenkins’ said, he seems “graveyard dead.”
I just felt compelled today to write a bit about the young Woods who had a game that seemed supernatural. He pulled off shots golfers can only dream about, and he did it for a long time. He became a golf dynasty although he never seemed to really warm up to the people as he climbed to the number one ranking. He seemed cold, calculating and invincible until it all came crashing down beginning with the sex scandal six years ago.
But I think Woods has come back a better man if not the greatest golfer anymore. He has shown a humble streak that was never there before, even looking human when we know when he was at his best he was kind of superhuman and he knew it.
For those of us who watched the rise and fall of Tiger Woods, there is no joy in seeing this once magnificent athlete reduced to a sideshow. It is certainly exciting to see the emergence of the young golfers who have taken over the stage, but for those of us who saw Tiger at his best, it is hard to imagine anyone playing any better for as long as he did.
Woods will probably never win four more majors to tie Nicklaus, but being second to the Golden Bear is pretty darn good. They wrote Nicklaus beat some nobodies in winning his 14 majors, and now Jenkins has made that same observation about Woods. But having watched both of them over their entire careers, it is my view they are the top two golfers to ever play the game and their accomplishments will live forever.
Maybe one day we will be saying that about these young guys of today, but they will be hard pressed to measure up to Nicklaus and Woods, the two greatest of our time, who stood the test of time.