The past 12 months of sports haven't disappointed. The Lakers won a thrilling series over the Celtics, to capture their 16th NBA title, just another fantastic edition of their rivalry. The United States electrified the country with their World Cup play, and Spain's victory capped off an excellent tourney. The Duke Blue Devils, Chicago Blackhawks, Green Bay Packers, and San Francisco Giants all won their respective championships. Phil Mickelson won at Augusta in his usual dramatic fashion. There was just one glaring oddity. Something so unusual that even casual sports fans took notice: the slow and painful fall of the former number one golfer in the world, Tiger Woods.
It was just one year ago that Tiger spoke from TPC Sawgrass, apologizing for the infidelities he had made in the past. The apology itself was considered to be a little late; however, after it ended, most considered it to be heartfelt and sincere. It was meant to limit and perhaps end the rumors, magazine covers and bad press. While we knew that wouldn't happen, most fans of the game were ready to see Tiger the golfer, eager to see him bounce back and pick up where he left off: intimidating, winning tournaments and chasing Jack Nicklaus' 18 major wins record.
In his first tournament back, he finished a very respectable fourth at the Masters. Maybe this comeback would be quicker than we thought. Then he missed the cut at Quail Hollow, withdrew on Sunday at The Players (while out of contention), and finished tied for 19 at the Memorial. Uh Oh.
But we still had hope, because his next tournament was the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where a decade earlier he won by 15 strokes. After a week that featured several positive moments, it ended with yet another respectable fourth-place finish. We were getting closer. Then came the downward spiral.
Tiger didn't have one top 10 finish in his final eight starts before being eliminated from the FedEx Cup. His Ryder Cup play was good, but not spectacular. During November, Tiger couldn't find a win overseas either. He almost won at his Chevron World Challenge, but couldn't close out Graeme McDowell and fell in a playoff. In the last three weeks he's played two tournaments, finishing tied for 20th and tied for 44th.
On his return to the game a year ago, Tiger fired his long-time coach Hank Haney went about reconstructing his swing. But he couldn’t find the fairway with regularity; and when he did, his magical short game deserted him. Thrown clubs in frustration. Flashes of the old brilliance, peppered with three putts and bogeys. Tiger kept talking about a “process”. As recently as last November at the Chevron World Challenge, Tiger said, "My goal is to win every tournament I tee it up in and be prepared for every event." He continued, "But that does entail right now learning a new golf swing that requires a lot of work, some new motor patterns. It's not exactly easy, but it's a fun challenge." A “fun challenge”? He doesn’t look like he’s having much fun and neither are we. “It’s a process,” he repeated once again.
Tiger is now ranked third in the world, behind Lee Westwood at number one and Martin Kaymer in the second spot (Mickelson is fourth). The soap opera continues and we wish and wonder if he will ever return to his old ways.