News Column

The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va., Steve DeShazo column

June 21, 2014

By Steve DeShazo, The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.

June 22--The cynical view is that Tiger Woods is returning to action this week because he knows his presence at the Quicken Loans National will raise a lot more money for his foundation.

There's some truth to that, but it's hardly the whole story. There's much more validity to the fact that the British Open is less than a month away, and he still wants to win at least five more major titles and pass Jack Nicklaus' record of 18.

His career's biological clock is ticking rapidly. Woods will never be irrelevant on the PGA Tour, but he's no longer the man to beat every week.

And at this point, even Woods has to have his doubts. He's 38, hasn't won a major in six years and his body keeps breaking down. Like Alex Rodriguez's pursuit of baseball's career home run record, what seemed inevitable just a few years ago is now the longest of shots--thanks to self-inflicted stress.

There was a sense of urgency that borders on panic in Woods' Facebook announcement Friday, barely three months after his back surgery and just days after his agent leaked that he was taking full swings.

Woods knows his body better than anyone else. But is he rushing back too soon and setting himself up to become a tragic figure?

He's been in the spotlight his entire life, and he's always seemed uncomfortable when he's not the center of attention. Who knows how much it would sting not to accomplish his life's singular goal?

Realistically, though, the over-under for Woods winning future majors is 1.

Anyone who watched him play in recent years can see that he still has world-class shot-making ability. There's still a reasonable chance that in the next year or two, he'll put together four strong rounds and win a fifth green jacket or a fourth British Open.

And maybe his back surgery will help solve the putting woes that kept him out of contention in recent majors. When Woods was the best in the world for almost a decade, almost anything within 20 feet (and some longer putts) were essentially gimmes. Lately, they've been adventures.

Even if Woods gets healthy and regains 90 percent of his form, though, it's no sure thing that he'll win another major. He could become a victim of the deep, talented young field of competitors he helped create.

In his prime, Woods would have had a hard time beating Martin Kaymer at the recent U.S. Open at Pinehurst. Kaymer won by eight strokes, nearly lapping the field the way Woods did in 2000 at Pebble Beach (15 shots) or Rory McIlroy did at Congressional in 2011 (eight).

Kaymer is 29. McIlroy is a sometimes-immature 25, but his talent is undeniable. Rickie Fowler is also 25 and finally seems to be harnessing his vast potential. Then there's Jordan Spieth, who's been anointed the next PGA Tour prodigy, a mere babe of 20. They're largely immune to the Tiger mystique of a decade ago that caused accomplished golfers to falter on Sundays in big events.

To win another major--any major--Woods will have to be better than all of them for four rounds. Not to mention Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson and Bubba Watson (each of whom is younger and now ranked ahead of Woods) and others like Matt Kuchar, Jason Day, Justin Rose and, of course, Phil Mickelson. Those are long odds.

Consistency wins majors, and that was the most shocking deficiency in Woods' game over the past several years. Will a healthy back change that? Time will tell.

But time isn't on Woods' side. Let's hope for his sake--and for golf's--that his quest isn't making him rush back too soon and ruin his last chance at greatness.

Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443


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Source: Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA)

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