No one wins a golf tournament so much as they don’t lose it. It’s 72 holes of survival of the fittest, and he who makes the fewest mistakes comes out on top on Sunday afternoon.
It’s a sport with no teammates and only one person who understands you—the caddie. You spend four days trying to avoid about 17 miles worth of land mines and it can all blow up on you in the final few feet—or even inches.
Does the collar get any tighter than it does for the professional golfer on the tourney’s last day, when he starts the morning with a four stroke lead and looks behind him and sees a gang charging after him, making birdies and sinking 25-foot putts, all while looking cool and collected?
It can be the loneliest place on Earth—being the leader of a major golf tournament in its waning hours. The pressure has gotten some of the game’s greats, and a whole lot of its goods.
The pro golfer can’t duck into the showers and hide out after the 72nd hole and then sneak out the back door of the locker room, avoiding reporters. He can’t point to an error by his third baseman or an errant pass by his point guard or a strange play called by his coach as a contributing factor to his loss.
Golf tournaments aren’t won, as a rule. They’re just not lost.
No one can snatch a tournament in come-from-behind fashion without a conspiracy involving the leader. The followers can make all the birdies and eagles that they want, but they’re useless unless the leader is three-putting or slicing a drive into the woods or hitting a fat fairway wood into a bunker on the approach.
The caveat here is that none of this was true when Tiger Woods was on top of the golfing world.
Tiger won tournaments. He didn’t not lose them.
Woods was the exception to the aforementioned corollaries. He was the exception, no matter if you wanted to throw Hogan, Nicklaus, Jones and Nelson into the mix. Woods was better than them all. He played in a league of one.
Golf was a game that Tiger Woods owned, more than Muhammad Ali owned boxing and more than Pete Sampras ever owned tennis. Tiger didn’t come from ahead to lose, and when he came from behind to win, the leader never had a prayer.
Woods became one of the world’s best known athletes, traveling the globe in his red shirt and black pants and all those magic wands in his bag. He had a smile that could light Broadway during a blackout.
Woods was the prodigy golfer—swinging clubs that were taller than he, when he was still diapered. Other kids had a playground; Woods had a driving range.
Golf was forewarned. In the years leading up to Tiger joining the PGA tour, the stories of his prowess on the links were told the same way wide-eyed bank patrons of the 1930s talked about Dillinger’s jobs.
Golf was forewarned. Tiger Woods didn’t sneak up on the PGA. His presence was announced beforehand, like a tornado—and no one can do anything about those, either, except weather them.
Woods won tournament after tournament—with more than a few majors sprinkled in—and when he wasn’t winning he was often scaring the bejeebers out of the guy who did win. From 1997-2009, Woods was the tour’s no. 1 money winner nine times out of 13.
Almost $100 million Woods has won, slapping that tiny, dimpled ball around like no one else.
Woods owned golf. He won as a teenager and he won as a young man and he won as a veteran and he won off the course, with endorsements and a gorgeous wife and a beautiful family.
There’s irony—and maybe a cruel joke—somewhere in the fact that the demise of Tiger Woods began on a Thanksgiving weekend.
It was November 2009 when the story broke of Woods being involved in a bizarre car wreck near his home. It wasn’t long before the facts began to ooze out: Woods had been a naughty boy, cheating on his gorgeous wife, former model Elin Nordegren.
Then out of the woodwork came women who also claimed to have had sexual relations with Woods.
Divorce soon followed and golf was put on the back burner while Woods sought help for his destructive, deviant behavior.
The road back for Tiger Woods has been pocked with injury and poor play. He’s an also ran now; just one of the guys to fill the field. He hasn’t won a tournament in two years, not really coming close, in fact.
He lost his wife and his family and his endorsements. He lost his edge on the golf course and his aura. No one fears Woods now; it’s as if the PGA tour has been freed from his bondage.
The majors are being won by first-timers and Cinderella stories. Woods has abdicated his throne and a bunch of paupers are getting the chance to sit in it.
The latest news about Woods came earlier this week, and like all news about him since November 2009, it wasn’t uplifting.
Woods announced that longtime caddie Steve Williams, Tiger’s best friend on the golf course since 1999, was being canned.
“I want to express my deepest gratitude to Stevie for all his help, but I think it’s time for a change,” Woods said, not explaining why a change was needed.
Speculation is that the relationship between Woods and Williams chilled like champagne on New Year’s Eve after Tiger and Nordegren split.
Williams joins swing coach Hank Haney as ex-Woods employees turned scapegoats for their boss’s poor play.
Since caddies get paid based on the success of the golfers for whom they work, the past two years have been lean times for Williams, who nonetheless stuck by Woods.
All it got Williams was kicked to the curb.
In an interview with Television New Zealand following his firing, Williams said, “Obviously, working through a scandal, he’s had a new coach, a swing change, the last 18 months has been very difficult and I’ve stuck by him through thick and thin. I’ve been incredibly loyal — and then to have this happen, basically you could say I’ve wasted two years of my life, the last two years.”
Williams will probably be better off in the long run, because it’s becoming apparent that Tiger Woods simply isn’t relevant anymore. He’s a broken man with Achilles and knee injuries who fights himself on the course something fierce, and loses.
It’s not overly dramatic to suggest that Woods, at age 35, is in the sunset of his golf career.
And, as usual with the pro golfer, he has no one to blame but himself.