“Even though I haven’t won a major championship in five years I’ve been there in a bunch of them where I’ve had chances. I just need to keep putting myself there and eventually I’ll get some.”
That’s what Tiger Woods had to say in a press conference before The Open Championship, which took place this past weekend. After shooting -2 through 36 holes, Tiger posted a 72 and 74 on Saturday and Sunday — his two worst scores of the tournament — to finish five strokes out of the lead, falling short yet again in the season’s third major.
Despite winning four tournaments this year, Woods has been unable to find success at the ones that are most important to him. It’s no secret that Woods, a 14-time major champion, has been eyeing Jack Nicklaus’ mark of 18 majors throughout his entire career. He has said himself that it’s just about all that matters to him.
“You can win all the tournaments you want,” Woods said, “but the majors are what you’re remembered for. It’s how you’re measured as a champion in our sport. The majors are where it’s at.”
There was a point in time when it wasn’t even a question if Tiger would break the record. It was simply a matter of when he would do it. And look at where we are now: five years removed from his last major victory at the 2008 U.S. Open, discussing whether or not he will ever win one more major, let alone the five that he needs to stand alone with the all-time record.
Jack Nicklaus was regularly winning majors until the age of 40 and won his last at 46. Tiger is only 37 right now, but the difference is that Nicklaus didn’t face the same injury issues that Tiger has. Between his left knee and achilles tendon, Tiger has missed a ton of time over the last few years and has seen smaller bothers, like a recent elbow injury, nag him as his age seems to be catching up with him.
But it’s more than that. While certainly not as tangible as injury issues, one has to think that the pressure that comes along with major tournaments is getting to Tiger. It’s crazy to think that Tiger Woods of all athletes would be cracking under the pressure, but the circumstances have changed immensely for him.
When he was last regularly winning majors, Tiger was in his early thirties and had not yet dealt with any major injuries. It seemed like he had all the time in the world to win five more majors. Nobody thought that it would take him more than another six or seven years to seal the deal at the rate that he was winning (two in 2005, two in 2006, one in 2007, one in 2008).
The pressure was off for Tiger. There was no ticking clock on the end of his career. There was no media crucifixion declaring that he was done. There were no injuries keeping him out of tournaments. There was no doubt in his mind or anybody else’s that the record was anything but an inevitability. And that lack of pressure helped Tiger Woods be the most confident guy on the course every weekend.
That confidence translates into great play. He was the most clutch golf player in the world, whether it was a great drive that he needed late on Sunday or a 20-foot putt that looked impossible. Tiger has lost that clutch factor that drove him through those 14 wins. He’s vulnerable now. He knows it and the rest of the PGA Tour knows it. The days of “Tiger Woods vs. the field” are behind us.
It’s sad to say it, but the cold-blooded, superhuman, major-winning Tiger Woods of old isn’t coming back.
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