By Steven Petrella
3:08 PM EDT, July 18, 2012
Whenever Tiger Woods is playing golf from now until he retires, the question of whether or not he is ‘back’ will always come up. It's inevitable, unfortunately, the answer to that isn’t as black and white as some people make it out to be.
Can he win majors, compete at a high level and be one of the world’s best golfers? Sure, he absolutely can. But is he back? Like Tiger back? Like every player on the course fears him back? Like never, ever blowing a lead on a Sunday back? No, and I don’t think he ever will be.
In 2008, when Tiger Woods forced a playoff against Rocco Mediate with a 15-foot birdie putt in the US Open, everyone was scared. When he went on to win that playoff, it wasn’t a surprise. It was what the world had come to expect of Tiger. It was his will to win.
Golfers were scared of what Tiger could do. His competitors knew he was breathing down their necks at all times. If the leaderboard had the name Woods on it during the weekend of an event, you better believe everybody else was sweating.
But now, the Webb Simpson’s of the golf world haven’t been on the same course as the old, iron Tiger. The Rickie Fowler’s and Rory McIlroy’s, golf’s new lifeblood, don’t care about what Tiger did five or 10 years ago. They’ve never seen the Tiger of old on the course. On TV, they probably idolized him, but not on the course.
So now, nobody is as afraid of Tiger Woods as they once were. He doesn’t have that edge and that ability to instill fear in the hearts of golfers everywhere.
A different golfer has won each of the last 15 majors, starting with Padraig Harrington's win at the 2008 PGA Championship. There are too many golfers who are excelling right now, and Tiger will never be as dominant as he once was.
In that 2008 US Open, had Tiger not sunk one of the most clutch putts in tournament history to force a playoff the next day, we wouldn’t be talking about this. That was the edge we refer to -- the ability to sink those putts when no one else could. That is why he was feared. That is why no one wanted to look up and see the name Woods near the leaderboard on Saturday.
But it seems that Tiger has lost that edge, demonstrated in last month’s US Open at Olympic when he shot five over and three over on Saturday and Sunday to finish tied for 21st after ending Friday a stroke under par for the tournament. He hasn’t lost the edge to compete, because if he had, he wouldn’t be leading the FedEx Cup standings and he wouldn’t have three wins this season.
The old Tiger bears down and makes a push on the weekend of a tournament, and everyone else gets a little nervous. He’s just another exceptional golfer that can contend and win tournaments, not the best we’ve ever seen.
This weekend at The Open Championship at Royal Lytham in England, Tiger Woods should compete. There’s no reason he can’t hang near the top, because after all, he’s playing his best golf since his career seemed doomed when he was found cheating on his wife in late 2009.
Tiger Woods will win another major in his career and he will win plenty of tournaments, but I don’t think we’ll ever see the Tiger Woods we saw transcend and change the sport during the last two decades. It’s nearly impossible for anyone to duplicate that. But hey, the things Tiger did in the past shocked and surprised us before, so maybe he'll shock me and do it again.
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