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Now that we know when Tiger will play next, December 1st in the Bahamas, we can discuss whether or not Tiger will be back. Yes, he is “back” playing the first week of December, but I mean back to being Tiger. The dominant golfer that people were afraid to play. Supposedly, so dominant that him being on the course increased other player’s performances by a stroke. Just because of his intimidation. That Tiger may never be back. However, a Tiger that we saw in 2012 and 2013 who was the number one golfer in the world and won 5 times in 2013 is definitely plausible. This Tiger woods competed in majors and held many leads going into weekends, but would falter late, a sight that was more uncommon than the Cleveland Browns winning a football game in 2016.
Why Tiger will not be back to being Tiger:
The first and most obvious reason why Tiger will never fully recover is because of his plethora of injuries. He is coming off his third back surgery. Most golfers know that there is nothing harder than playing with an injured back, and a third surgery on a back usually marks the end. He also had reconstructive knee surgery and had to heal from a broken leg all coming from his Hollywood finish in the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines. He has gone through it all when it comes to injuries, including a past achilles surgery, which will make his 40-year-old body feel closer to 50.
His body isn’t the only issue that may stop him from reaching the top. The generation that he inspired is now old enough to compete and have become maybe one of the most competitive generations ever with Rory Mcilroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Ricky Fowler and Dustin Johnson. These guys not only have incredible skill but also, like Tiger, are in great shape making it so they can compete at the top of their game for decades to come. Most importantly, this generation’s confidence is impeccable. In the past, Tiger would have a shot on everyone in the field because of his intimidation. However, this field will not be intimidated at all and would most likely relish the opportunity to play against a great like Tiger. The new generation is energetic and bold, so the Tiger effect will not be present what so ever.
In addition to intimidation, he may lose the mental edge he had on the field. This is not quite the same idea as intimidation because that was outwardly felt by the field. However, this is more of an inward trait. The idea that he will not be himself between the ears. The greatest attribute about Tiger Woods was his focus and discipline (which was taught by his father, who threw tees and tried to do anything possible to distract him while he was practicing). No matter what was happening around him, he would have a “tiger” like focus on his one objective, hitting the best shot possible. This manifested itself in never losing a 54 hole lead in a major (until YE Yang in 2009), his jaw-dropping shots, and countless clutch putts (Bay Hill 2008, 2009 and the US Open 2008). Ever since the YE Yang moment, his mental edge has disappeared. He has won tournaments, but in majors, he seems to fall out of contention early. He used to be able to grind out solid rounds to stay in contention at majors, but now it seems his bad rounds lead him to fall out of contention by Friday or just missing the cut. Even when he had a good start he would falter and become irrelevant by the time he would tee off on Sunday.
Why Tiger Could Comeback:
Firstly, I must say this. If anyone could come back, it would be Tiger Woods. He is at the level of a Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, and Michael Phelps. People at this level often shatter expectations, so even though it is a long shot, people at this stature have been doing this their whole lives. Luckily for Tiger, golf is a sport where people can still achieve greatness at an old age. Jack Nicklaus won a major at 46, so that means Tiger would still have 6 more years of possibly winning a major, and with technology being greater than it was when Nicklaus played, it is possible he could consistently contend until the age of 50. Tom Watson was one hole away from winning the 2012 British Open at 59 years old, so it is already been shown that it can be done.
Everyone seems to forget that Tiger was still a top player only 3 years ago. Not 7 years ago like many people say (the end was thought to be 2009 and YE Yang), but he still won The Players, had the incredible chip in to win The Memorial and still won many other big tournaments. The biggest major he missed out on was the 2013 Masters. He seemed to be back to his old form, but on the 15th hole on Friday his approach hit the flagstick and kicked into the water. It was extremely unlucky. It was a beautiful approach and should have led to a tap-in birdie. However, he had to re-drop and then later got penalized for an illegal drop (a spectator watching on his tv called in to penalize him) and he finished with a triple bogey instead of a birdie, which could have catapulted him into first place and probably what I think would have been his first major win since 2008. Sadly, he was penalized and that seemed like the end of Tiger Woods competing in majors and like I have said, if he got that one major, it would be an entirely different story right now. We would probably be talking about a great career comeback and him having more majors than Jack. Nevertheless, none of that happened, but it is important to realize that it was not that long ago that he was competing as the number one golfer in the world.
After watching the interview with Charlie Rose he seems to be at peace with his past, but also looks extremely motivated. He not only wants to get back out there, but he wants to dominate the field. Since he is at peace with his past, he will be able to solely focus on playing golf, which should do wonders for his game and his psyche. In addition, he talked about having to adjust his swing because of old age. He is a smart player and will make sure he has the right swing. He will do the research necessary to find the best technology, and most importantly work as hard as anyone to stay healthy for as long as he can. So if anyone could rehabilitate, adjust his swing and stay healthy for another decade, it’s Tiger Woods.
Tiger Woods has taken more than a year off since he last played. Before he tried to come back too early from past injuries and I think this time off, even though frustrating, will do him well when it comes to his future and present health. This is his last chance, if he hurts his back again then that will be it, so it was very smart for him to take his time.
One last thing to consider is that Tiger stated that he is going to finish with more majors than Jack. I don’t think Tiger would say this if he didn’t believe he would surpass him. Tiger Wood’s newly found inner belief (which may have been gone since 2009) could be the missing ingredient for his success. So if you have learned from the past, do not bet against Tiger Woods.
I do not see him being able to get back to Jack’s record. I just don’t see his body being able to sustain a dominant level for a 5 year period, which is probably what he would need to be able to break Jack’s record and win 5 more. In addition, the competition is so stiff right now. Even if he is able to be a top golfer again on the tour there is no guarantee that he will be able to win a major even if he is able to contend at a high level for a few years. However, I’m telling you, if he is able to get that first one. Whether it be domination, or him being lucky, he will rattle off a string of majors. That one major will unlock the Tiger Wood’s of old and I would almost guarantee that he would go on to tie or break Jack’s record. When it is all said and done, Tiger will either finish with his 14 majors or get to Jack’s mark of 18 and maybe 19. There is no in-between.
Ryan is currently a student at the University of North Carolina. He grew up in the Bay Area and has had Raiders season tickets his entire life fostering his love for the NFL. He has founded his own sports website, thejrreport.com and works at the Sports Desk for the Daily Tar Heel. You can follow Ryan on twitter @rytime98 if you want to discuss anything sports.