Any other golfer wouldn’t merit this level of attention after every week, but no one draws the amount of absurd overreactions both ways that Tiger Woods does. There is no one capable of saying, “Oh, Tiger just had an off week.” It’s either “Tiger is done, golf is changed forever,” or “Tiger shot 67!?!?!?! He’s back.” So rationally and logically, where does Tiger stand?
There can be almost no doubt that Tiger’s play has been affected by whatever happened in his personal life. His 2010 campaign has been so far below any other observed year for Tiger and that seems to be the reason. Tiger has not played well this year. That is a fact.
But, that part is basically meaningless. “Where will Tiger go from here?” is the important question.
This debate really boils down to how you ask the question. Will Tiger Woods ever return to 100%? That, to me, is a simple answer. If he wants to, yes he will. Tiger has been through various stages of written off throughout his career and each time has rebounded to a higher level of dominance.
Just consider the season where Tiger’s father died and he missed the cut at Winged Foot. It seemed at the time the general consensus was Tiger might never be the same. Then, he found his game and put together the best two year run in the history of golf from the 2006 Western Open to the 2008 US Open. His dominance over a large and talented field of worldwide golfers simply was the most impressive thing a human has ever done on a golf course.
But, there is still the second question. Will Tiger ever be as dominant as he was before? This is not such a simple answer. Factors like Tiger’s health, relative strength of the field come into play here.
What no one seems to understand right now is just how long Tiger will play. Tiger is not an 34-year-old NFL runningback, who started four years of college and averages 400 carries a year, trying to break the rushing record. He’s a golfer.
Just look around. Vijay Singh, who could never putt, posted the best two years I have on record for someone not named Tiger Woods in 2003-2004 as a 41 and 42 year old. Stricker, Furyk and Phil Mickelson have arguably done the same thing. Kenny Perry arguably had two of his best years as a pro as a 48-year-old. Michael Allen, Tom Pernice, Tom Lehman, Freddie Couples have remained above average tour pros even after turning 50. Tom Watson, at 60!, keeps popping his head up at major championships.
Now, it’s certainly very reasonable to argue that this is a golden-goose generation of 40-50 year olds. They rode Tiger’s coattails to making lots of money, while relying on increased fitness and better technology to play long and not having to deal with the “Tiger generation” quite yet. Tiger probably won’t be able to avoid that next generation.
It’s possible, even likely, that Tiger’s competition in the next 10 years will be better. Look at the young guns that have recently arrived on tour. It’s hardly a coincidence that it’s starting to happen a dozen years after Tiger dominated Augusta. Imagine all the 5-year-olds who fell in love with golf because of Tiger, or their fathers who heard Earl’s story and set their kids on a 24/7 golf practice schedule. It’s not unreasonable to think that Tiger’s incredible and unprecedented devotion to golf, has spurred on 10,20 maybe 50 kids now that worked as hard as Tiger did before making the PGA Tour.
Maybe Tiger won’t dominate this generation of players like he did the last. Maybe this generation of players will make it harder for Tiger as a 40+ year-old than Tiger’s generation did on the current old guys. Still, it’s highly unlikely that anyone who has already made it to Tour will surpass the level of dominance Tiger showed in the past 10 years.
As for Tiger’s body breaking down, maybe. He’s arguably put more swings into his body that any other 35-year-old that’s played the game, and he’s had surgeries on his knees multiple times. But, he’s not an NFL runningback. Plenty of players, with improved fitness have made it well into their forties still playing near their primes. Even after that, if Tiger stays motivated he could probably compete as an average pro on tour at least past 55. If he wants to.
And that’s the key. If he wants to. Maybe this whole situation has soured Tiger to public life. Maybe he’ll quit golf take his money and hide on some island. It’s not even worth speculating.
Here’s what I will do: Assume Tiger plays until he is 50 with an average 10% chance of winning each Major. If he stays motivated that is an absolute low of his chances to win each major. Tiger is now 34, with one major left. That’s 61 more majors on the regular tour.
Here are the breakdown of Tiger’s probable outcomes with a 10% chance and the given number of majors remaining:
And finally, 20%:
To make it easy, here’s the change from starting with 64 majors and now winning 3 in a row at each average percentage:
At 10%, Tiger is about 3.7% less likely to win a major after this season so far. Of course, he would still be about 75% to break Jack Nicklaus’ record. As you go up to 20%, there is almost no effect because Tiger is basically a lock to break it in 61 tries.
I have no idea what Tiger will do from this point forward. But, if he’s motivated and healthy for the rest of his career, this season was hardly as tragic as everyone is saying.