Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tiger Woods: End of an Era

The blazing Florida sun rose on the renowned Bay Hill golf course at 7:22 this morning with Tiger Woods coming off a vintage performance in the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational shooting a 68. Spectators lined the course like dominoes on the third day of play, holding their collective breaths, bewildered in wonderment if the old Tiger had risen up out of the ashes to be reborn. As the humid Florida day turned into a cold windy night and the green blades of grass turned black, Woods finished shooting a 74, two over par, with four bogeys and one double-bogey. How quickly a story can change. But, this has been the saga of the new Tiger Woods since he returned from a tumultuous and unraveling social cyclone last November.

It was this Bay Hill tournament last year that he dodged, attempting to avoid media's inquiries into his personal life. Tiger's first tournament back from his one man soap opera was the 2010 Masters, picking this event for it's prestige and the strict media requirements where press could only inquire about his game, not infidelity. Tiger's performance in last year's Masters played out similarly to the drama filled life he had been leading the previous six months. Finishing a strong fourth after the atomic social bomb that exploded on his life seemed like a bigger victory than putting on a fifth green jacket. However, the top ten finishes didn't last. From then on began the Era of the new Tiger Woods; the golfer who is ranked 5th in the world, not 1st, the one who gives us a glimpse of former dominance, but is unable to sustain it for an entire four-round tournament.

Tiger has become mummified in his past achievements, dominance only reverberated in the past tense. His last major victory came at the 2008 U.S. open where he won on a sudden death hole, playing on an ailing knee that would later require surgery. The flair for the dramatic on the golf course made him a fan favorite, a reason for the casual golfer to turn on the tournament.

The new Tiger who is playing the last round of the Invitational today is wearing his signature red shirt, representing aggression and dominance over his opponents. The clothes are the same, but the man is clearly not. Red might as well represent the frustration on Tiger's face as each tournament loss and slide down the world rankings is another harsh reality check that we may never see the old Tiger again.

His opponents used to openly cower to the media about what Tiger being in the field meant to their games. Now other golfers play on, unfazed, unintimated, and playing without the fear of the shadow Tiger used to cast upon them. What once was Tiger's strength has become his ultimate weakness; his ability for absolute concentration and conviction that no matter how many strokes he was down on day 3, he could win on day 4 is no more. Any positive rounds are early and not often, with his mental game deteriorating with every progressing hole. The once most zoned in athlete in the world now seems to have less focus than a Jack Russell who has to pose for a Christmas picture on Santa's lap.

Tiger Woods being great is good for the sport. I miss Tiger Woods. Not the adulterer, liar, or fake forgiver, but the best golfer in the world. Tiger was the first golfer to be a crossover athlete, the Michael Jordan of the sport. The old Tiger played golf like a linebacker breathing fire, knuckles digging into the dirt ready to blaze through the line to attack the quarterback.

The name Tiger Woods used be synonymous with the sultan of swing and a perfectionist with the putter, who made a 60 foot putt to win the Masters look more effortless than a leisurely stroll around the block. 

The fist pumps after a victory are gone. The old Tiger appears to have vanished for good. 

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