Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tiger Not Done Yet

I know, I know. I've buried Tiger Woods many times, proclaiming him dead--Tiger, R.I.P.--when he struggled in tournaments that, in the old days, he would have won or at least come close to winning. He used to swagger, now he staggers.

A case of premature burial? Could be.

I've reconsidered.  I'm not so sure he's finished, In the next  year or two, he just might muster up every ounce of quality golf inside him, and win another major--something he hasn't done in four years. Not that it looks great for him. Age and injuries, naturally, are his enemies. He's 36--a creaky 36--roaming courses on bad knees. And he's still fiddling with his stroke. Listening to some knowledgeable golfers analyze Tiger, they go on and on about what's wrong with his swing, which is a maze of glitches.

You saw all sides of Tiger in last weekend's U.S. Open at San Francisco's Olympic Club, a notoriously treacherous course mined with obstacles, where golfers battle fog, winds and brutal slopes. In the first two rounds there were flashes of the Tiger of old. Early Saturday, he had a share of the lead. But suddenly he morphed into the Tiger of today, tumbling down the board, racking up a 75 and a four-over total. On Sunday, beginning with a barrage of bogeys, he was out of contention early, ending any chance of winning his first major since claiming the U.S. Open title at Torrey Pines in 2008. He finished a disappointing 21st.

Tiger's real problem is consistency. When he was king of the hill, through nearly all of last decade, you could count on him to win a major or two every year or at least be a major threat to win every one. Now, in a given tournament, the rotten rounds outweigh the good ones.

One thing is in Tiger's favor. There aren't any other golfers out there who are hogging the titles. True,
Tiger is no longer consistent, but who else is?. Every major is won by a different golfer. The shine-and-flounder syndrome rules. Somebody will win a major and then have trouble making the cut in other tournaments. Look at this U.S. Open. The world's No. 1 golfer, Luke Donald, didn't even make the cut. Neither did the defending champ, heralded young Rory McIlroy. Nor did Masters' champ Bubba Watson. Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson was a disaster, barely escaping a last-place finish. Overall the field is stronger than it was last decade, but there don't seem to be any budding Tigers for Tiger to worry about.

Tiger is still capable. Remember that day last March, at the Honda Classic in Florida, when he shot a miraculous closing round of 62, nearly catching McIlroy, who won by two. Still, though, his grip on the mental part of the game is shaky. We don't see that iron-willed, laser-focused Tiger all that often.

Maybe we should give Tiger the benefit of the doubt. One day, possibly at a major, he'll string together four killer rounds. It may be a long shot but there's enough solid evidence pointing in that direction.

Several friends, real golf fanatics, have wagered a few thousand each that Tiger will win a major by his 38th birthday. Though not betting the big bucks, I'm siding with them.