Reports of Tiger's demise exaggerated

May 24, 2011 

Tiger Woods is done, finished, kaput.

He is no longer the golfer who lifted the sport and will ultimately fail to reach the lofty heights his talents promised.

Sound familiar? Well, it should.

Such is the rhetoric that has been dominating mainstream golf coverage in the 10 days since Tiger bowed out of The Players Championship early because of an injury. It's also the driving force behind the rather laughable coverage of Tiger's exit from the top 10 of the Official World Golf Ranking this week.

Almost immediately after Tiger declared "no mas" after a front-nine 42 in the first round of The Players and during the nearly two weeks since, there has been serious discussion regarding whether Tiger still has the game or the desire that made him the world's best for the past decade plus.

A writer for Golf.com questioned his will to play. Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, on their ESPN Radio show, essentially called his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors finished, even though he is still in mid-30s.

And, just as Woods announced his injured knee and Achilles tendon were improving, we have the breaking news he is no longer among the world's 10 best golfers. I get that Tiger is news no matter how newsworthy the topic is, but the idea that there are 10 golfers in the world better than Woods is as laughable as the idea anyone could actually name all the golfers in the top 10 without a trip to Google.

Given the injuries and personal turmoil that has roiled around Tiger since 2009, it's clear he has not been the dominant golfer who owned the previous decade of professional golf. Knee surgeries, divorce, public ridicule and coach and swing changes have certainly taken a toll on the would-be greatest golfer ever.

Yet to take the past 24 months and a complicated world ranking system as evidence that his greatness is a thing of the past is shortsighted at best, wishful thinking at worst.

Despite his huge notoriety that clearly transcends the game, Tiger has not always been a friend to the media. He has favored certain people over others and was never afraid to call out anyone he felt was overstepping bounds or firing from a personal agenda.

Just like other sports stars who run afoul of the scribes and, even worse, talking heads, Tiger is an easy target when he screws up from his own shortcomings or legitimately has an injury that prevents him from playing at his best.

Given what Woods has accomplished the past 15 years as a professional, his inspiring performance playing on a broken leg in the 2009 U.S. Open and his unquestionable competitiveness should easily give him a pass from doubts that he wants to play or that his poor form, and not poor health, was the reason he walked off the TPC Sawgrass course two weeks ago.

When we drill right down to it, the question is this: Since when did it become the right question to question Tiger's competitive nature and his God-given skill to play the game of golf?

At his worst he has been bad, but consider that in the past five majors Tiger has three top-five finishes. Sound like a guy ready to be put out to pasture?

Given what we know about his personal life, if I were a father of a 30-year-old woman thinking about dating Tiger, I would have some serious questions for the man. Yet as a golfer, ups and downs come for even the best players. Jack Nicklaus had them, and so did Arnold Palmer. Tiger is riding one serious downer right now, but to suggest that it's insurmountable is premature at best.

Whether Tiger returns to form or his best days are indeed behind him won't be determined by conjecture today. Yet if I were a betting man, I would put my money behind Tiger rather than the ones questioning him.

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