Paper Tiger ?

January 31

Let the piling on begin. Tiger failed to contend in his first tournament of the year. Guess he’s washed up.

Tiger Woods used to not only move the needle in golf … he was the needle. He is still a tremendous draw, as the weekend ratings for the Farmers Insurance Open attest, although he finished well back in the pack at one-under par.

Tiger still moves that needle. But on a golf course he has owned, Torrey Pines, he shot 74-75 over the weekend. In the understatement of the year, Tiger said he had “work to do.”

Tiger is not the Tiger of three or four years ago, and that persona may never return. For the first time in years, he’s no longer #1 in the world, dropping down to #3. Based on what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard many experts in the game say, his era of dominance is over.

Does that mean golf’s most fascinating story will never win again ? No, of course he’ll win. He might win another major or two and smell the record set by Jack Nicklaus. But at age 35, the tank is less than half-full, and the reasons are four-fold.

1) There is no more Fear Factor with Tiger. The young guns who grew up idolizing Tiger have serious game, and they’ve come from all over the world to run him down.

2) Tiger’s trademark mental toughness has waned. He used to make more par-saving putts from 10-feet than anyone, which emboldened him in other parts of his game. That isn’t happening anymore. As happens with many great ones, Tiger’s flatstick is starting to betray him.

3) Physical problems: how about four knee operations, not to mention problems with his neck and Achilles tendon ?

4) Swing change: Tiger is still tweaking his swing with the help of Sean Foley. Who knows how long before it clicks in, and if it does, will the body and mind join in concert?

Oh yes, and he’s winless since splitting up with Elin, essentially letting one of the hottest women on earth slip away. That’s another withdrawal from the Bank of Mojo.

I’ve always loved the way Tiger played, even though I wasn’t crazy about his sterilized personality, which we have now come to find out was a ruse. I didn’t care for what he did off the golf course, but as long as it didn’t put his wife and family in physical or legal danger, it shouldn’t be anyone’s concern.

He has certainly paid for his philadnering, and it really had nothing to do with how I appreciate him as a competitor. You think he’s the only guy on the Tour who hasn’t cheated ? He just did it on a grander scale.

I’m also not crazy with the fawning media coverage of Phil Mickelson, whom I guess is a pretty good guy, and his family has been through some trauma of its own. But Phil is cast as the White Knight, and I think we’ve gone overboard with the Lovefest for Lefty.

Don’t get out the shovels yet for Tiger yet, but many of the greats of the game went south after their mid-30’s. Some, however, did not and Tiger is still in excellent shape despite all of his surgeries.

Oh, and guess what ? Golf can humble even the best. And the worst. I almost went birdie-birdie on the front nine at Deer Ridge Saturday, then proceeded to chunk one into the stupid barranca at the par 3 7th, one of the easiest holes on the course.

Tiger has had a violent swing on the golf course and violent swings in his personal life. If he recovers and regains his previous greatness, what a story that will be. I’m not counting on it, though.

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