Last week’s professional golf event was called the Hero World Challenge, and it included 18 of the top players on the PGA Tour.
It is more commonly known to golf insiders as “Tiger’s Event,” and it was ironically played in Orlando at Isleworth, which houses the most infamous fireplug in the Northern Hemisphere.
Tiger Woods turns 39 later this month and was once the undisputed champion of the golf world. He was “The Greatest,” but last week he started looking like a modern day version of Rocky Balboa.
I’ve lost track of the Tiger comebacks we have witnessed in the past five years. Sylvestor Stallone was able to hit us with five versions of the movie “Rocky” between 1978 and 1990. Just when we thought we had seen the last of Rocky we got a sixth version in 2006.
I fear that we are headed for something similar with Woods. His latest comeback was the most painful to watch. Last Thursday the Golf Channel — known to some as the Tiger Woods Network — produced nearly five hours of detailed analysis on Woods prior to his 12:15 p.m. starting time. Viewers found out about Tiger’s latest instructor, Chris Como, and saw video documentaries comparing a 16-year-old Woods with today’s version.
Paige Mackenzie and Chris DiMarco, both Golf Channel personalities, predicted that Woods would win the Hero Challenge. I am not sure how many golf lessons those two have actually taught outside of the TV studio, but they forgot about the biggest hurdle any new old swing has — get it to the first tee from the range. One shot into Tiger’s round and it was “snaperoo” into a backyard located left of the first fairway at Isleworth.
And it got worse from there.
After two opening bogeys, Woods chunked a couple of chips, followed by a skulled pitch across a green. He limped in with a 77.
When Sunday’s dust had settled, Woods had carded a four-round total of 288, which was 26 shots behind Jordan Spieth. After three rounds Tiger had not made a putt over 12 feet in length. He continued to experience chipping woes over the weekend and flubbed nine shots during his Hero Challenge.
It has been six years since Woods last won a major championship. In 2013 he did win five PGA Tour events, so I am not saying the guy is washed up — yet. But what matters most to Woods at this point in his career are majors. He needs four to tie Jack Nicklaus. Golf makes people try too hard. Four is too many.
Nicklaus was 46 when he won the 1986 Masters. He won three majors after the age of 39. During the span of his 18 major victories the biggest gap between wins was six years. The ageless Gary Player won nine major championships — none after the age of 39. Player’s longest drought between major wins was four years.
Tom Watson has eight major championships to his credit. Watson never won another major after his 34th birthday. His biggest gap between major wins was two years. Arnold Palmer has seven major championship victories, but only one came after he turned 40. Palmer saw a four-year drought as his longest between major championship wins.
Nick Faldo won six major championships and was 39 when he won his final one. Faldo never went more than four years between major victories.
Maybe Woods can take the most solace from Lee Trevino, who had six major championships. Trevino was 44 when he won the 1984 PGA, and that came 10 years after his previous major win. Of these six players, only Trevino and Nicklaus won major championships after the age of 40.
The other thing that separates him from the other six is the injury factor. None of these players battled the physical ailments that Woods has.
In the 2006 release of “Rocky Balboa,” 16 years had passed since his final fight. Long retired Rocky Balboa still staggers around an ever-changing world. But a computer simulated fight on ESPN between a young Rocky Balboa and the current champion Mason Dixon reignites interest in the faded boxer. Rocky has not lost his fighting spirit and goes into the ring again losing a split decision just like in Rocky I. Rocky is last seen visiting his wife’s grave saying, “Yo Adrian, we did it.”
Or could it be that today’s Tiger has evolved into “Snagglepuss,” the 1959 Hanna-Barbera cartoon character who is best known for the catchphrase “Heavens to Murgatroyd”, along with phrases such as “Exit, stage left” and “Heavens to Betsy.” The latter two seem very fitting after last week.
No one escapes time. Not even “The Greatest.”
Ted Bishop is director of golf and general manager of The Legends Golf Club in Franklin and a past PGA of America president. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.