Tiger Woods’s Early Exit

I don’t know exactly why, but sports journalists lose their capacity for critical analysis when it comes to Tiger Woods.  In analyzing and commenting on the state of his game over the last three years, they have largely capitulated to the terms set by Woods himself.  As I’ve said before, athletes usually have no ability for honest self-assessment.

Woods talks regularly about how he’s “almost back.”  He imagines he’s on a trajectory to the level of play he demonstrated a little over a decade ago.  For some reason, sportswriters adopt the terms set by Woods while keeping straight faces.  Would they do the same if it were Jerry Rice or Pete Sampras?

There are several reasons why Woods is not “almost back” and probably will never again replicate that level of play.  I won’t trot them out today, but I’m just amazed that Woods has so intimidated sportswriters over the years that they, like Woods, have lost the ability to critique his game honestly (Brandel Chamblee and Johnny Miller are refreshing exceptions).

For today, however, I’ll just mention that his withdrawal from the WGC-Cadillac Championship yesterday reminded me of the comment that was made by either Jack Nicklaus or the great golf writer, Dan Jenkins, about fifteen years ago: the only things that will prevent Woods from breaking Nicklaus’s record of 18 major championships are family distractions and injuries.

5 thoughts on “Tiger Woods’s Early Exit

  1. Albion

    Can’t say I agree with you that the media have adopted Tiger’s narrative. His play over the past few months has improved dramatically. So if his play matches his rhetoric, why fault the media? He played well last week. He is not consistent, he no longer putts lights out, but his average is another man’s superlative.

    That said, I do agree that his injuries (and they don’t seem to be a figment of his imagination) are very concerning for a guy who is only 36. That left leg is critical to a top flight golfer and it doesn’t appear to be strong enough to handle Tiger’s motion. I think of Ernie Els who has never regained his form since his knee injury. And given Tiger’s medical history, this doesn’t seem to be a “tweak” from which he can recover with a bit of rest.

    I enjoy watching Tiger play; I hope he’s better soon. Even if the media are in his back pocket.

    1. timgombis

      His play has indeed improved, but I don’t think he’s focused on the right things. He’s gone to work on his swing when it’s actually his putting that’s in need of improvement. And while he’s played well, he’s talking about his play in a way that’s unrealistic. Many media types don’t question that. When Woods talks about his game, he actually doesn’t analyze it accurately, but few people question that. Like I said, Chamblee and Miller aren’t cowed into adopting his terms. Neither is Butch Harmon. He’s on with David Feherty later this week on Golf Channel and that should be fascinating.

      I love watching him play, too, and I hope he can recover in time for the Masters. He’s one of the most compelling athletes to watch, especially in golf. But there are issues that sportswriters don’t raise when it comes to Woods that they would with other athletes. E.g., his very questionable association with Anthony Galea. It’s a mystery to me why no one has questioned the nature of his injuries and the possible use of HGH.

    2. timgombis

      Just to elaborate on what I mean by the media’s capitulation to Woods’s narrative: In Woods’s mind, he isn’t “back” until he’s dominating again, or hitting every shot perfectly, breaking tournament records, and winning majors at a pace that has him breaking Nicklaus’s record. It seems that too many writers talk about Woods being “close” to “being back.”

      I don’t hear anyone suggesting that perhaps this is how Woods is going to perform from here on out–he’ll “only” be one of the top 35-50 golfers in the world over the next decade. Now, that’s amazing, quite honestly. But it’s not what Woods has in mind.

  2. Albion

    There may be two issues at work here: one is the idea that Woods has intimidated the media into believing he is almost back; the other relates to Woods’ alleged inability to critique himself. (And there is the Anthony Galea thing that I know nothing about.)

    On the first, because Woods is an elite athlete with extraordinary gifts, it doesn’t surprise me in the least that his standards define what “back” looks like, even if they’re not realistic. And since he has done things that no other golfer has ever done, it’s reasonable for sportswriters to conclude that maybe he does still have some magic left in his tank and that his standards, while not our standards, can be the benchmark for Tiger the next few years.

    On the second, I tend to agree with your assessment. it’s difficult to be self-critical. He never hit the ball better than when he was with Harmon, in my estimation, yet, like most people, Tiger was looking for something extra and, in hindsight, it hurt him. I don’t think Harmon is a great coach but he got Tiger to a place where he just needed to keep playing with what he had.

    So . . . blah, blah, blah . . . where’s the theological angle in all this? : )

    1. timgombis

      No theological angle at all! The topic fits the blog description, though, and it’s fun to think out loud about.

      What I see happening here is that over the last fifteen years, Woods has had intense control over his public persona and only granted access to writers who write positively about him. So, there’s been little that’s critical of his game and of him generally. That was true up to 2 1/2 years ago. But while some have been critical of his personal behavior, many are still in the habit of adopting his own terms in analyzing his game, even though, as you say, his standards are unrealistic and should be held up to critical scrutiny. That’s all I’m saying.

      I think he’s still capable of playing at an elite level (top 35-50) for some time, but he’ll never dominate as he used to. But he’s compelling to watch and I really do hope he continues to play well.

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