US PGA Championship - Tiger has plenty left in the tank

Tue, 16 Aug 17:03:00 2011

US golf expert Michael Arkush says Tiger Woods is far from finished despite a disastrous US PGA Championship.

US PGA Championship - Tiger has plenty left

Some of the same experts who vaulted Tiger Woods onto the pedestal for all those years, and rightfully so, are now suggesting he will never recapture his former greatness, citing his abysmal performance in last week’s US PGA Championship as the most recent example of a sad, permanent decline.

They are dead wrong.

For perspective, one needs to again measure Woods against the legend to whom he is most compared, Jack Nicklaus. The Golden Bear had a similarly unsuccessful three-year-period between the 1967 US Open and 1970 British Open during which he failed to win a Major in what was supposed to be his prime – ages 27-30. Nicklaus went through another slump in 1979, plummeting to 71st on the money list (he’d never finished worse than fourth before that season) and going winless for the first time since his rookie year in 1962.

Jack, at 39, was washed up, the Olden Bear.

Of course, Nicklaus was not washed up – he won the US Open and US PGA in 1980 – and neither is Woods. He will be just 36 years old in December. Ben Hogan captured six of his nine Majors after turning 37 – and after surviving a near-fatal car accident.

One reason for this premature assessment of Woods is that the press, in this fast-paced age of communications, is more prone than ever to spinning rash conclusions with insufficient evidence. Rory McIlroy, 22, assumes a four-shot lead with one round to go at Augusta, and presto, a new era in golf has arrived. McIroy shoots 80 on Sunday and that era is on hold – until he crushes the field at Congressional and it’s back again. Some new era. McIlroy was never in the hunt at Royal St. Georges, or in Atlanta.

No doubt Woods is out of sync and isn’t close to being the player who dominated for more than a decade. Anyone can see that, even Woods. But being dominant again is not the point. The point is whether he can be formidable again – winning tournaments, making a run at a record 19 Majors.

For one thing, he hasn’t changed one bit and that’s a good thing – at least for his game. Unlike Phil Mickelson, he doesn’t hang around for an hour after his round to sign autographs, and he never will. He doesn’t open up to the press, and he never will. He hinted in his famous “press conference” – reporters were not allowed to ask questions – back in February of 2010 that we would see a new Woods. We haven’t, and we won’t, and if we want Woods to be the Woods of old, we probably shouldn’t.

For another, he is healthy again, or so he claims. If he can remain healthy and use the time to practice with his coach, Sean Foley, does anyone doubt that he will put in the necessary effort? This is a man who found time to work hard when he was playing hard. Doesn’t it make sense that he’ll work even harder without those distractions?

Regaining his form will not be easy. The game is filled with once-great talents who lose their skills and never again come close to getting them back. They might make cameo appearances in the spotlight, like former No. 1 David Duval did at Bethpage Black in the 2009 US Open, but any true consistency is gone, usually forever. A lot of golfers don’t emerge from mid-career slumps. They are, instead, defined by them.

The key is motivation, and Woods is not lacking in that area. If he were, he wouldn’t have returned to play at Firestone and the US PGA. He knew his game wasn’t where it needed to be, but he missed the action.

It also hasn’t escaped his notice that others, such as McIlroy, are filling in the void he left behind. They don’t move the needle like he does – he actually is the needle, as one Golf Channel commentator wisely put it – but this new contingent of top young talent is displaying more grit than the generation he so easily disarmed, succumbing in one Major after another. Nicklaus, in his late 30s, had to fight off Tom Watson. Woods will have to fight off at least a dozen youngsters who can win Majors, and more are coming.

It would be good for Woods – and great for the game – to see him compete in one or two Fall Series events, but it’s unlikely to happen and certainly isn’t necessary for his progress. He has always followed his own agenda, famously revamping his swing on two occasions despite the criticism it generated, especially after he took a few steps backward, and he’ll do it again this time. Greatness usually requires a large amount of stubbornness, and Woods is as stubborn as they come.

Those discounting him do so at their own peril. All it takes is one comeback win and they will be believers again.

Michael Arkush / Yahoo

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