Commentary: Tiger Woods Isn’t the Tiger Woods of Six Years Ago

Once the greatest in the game, he’s now just another hacker in a sport that needs a star like him.

Posted: 08/08/2014 01:59 PM EDT
Commentary: Tiger Woods Isn’t the Tiger Woods of Six Years Ago

Golf misses a talent who draws non-golfers to the game. They came because they wanted to witness sheer greatness, and six years ago, Tiger Woods was the greatest.

Six years is an eternity in sports, because pro athletes have a shelf-life that isn’t measured in decades. To throw away half of one decade isn’t something that an athlete can afford to do, even when the athlete is Woods.

Six years ago, when Woods appeared at an event, crowds and the TV cameras surrounded him as if he were Michael Jordan, a youngish Muhammad Ali or any of America’s iconic rockers.

In the world of golf, he was surely one of them. His was a reputation that rivaled only Jack Nicklaus’s or Arnold Palmer’s.

Just like those golf legends, Woods had fame and fortune, plus he had an audacious style that made him feared in ways competitors never feared Nicklaus or Palmer.

But that was six years ago — a lifetime in sports. Tiger Woods has had some success over those six years, and he’s even stood as the top golfer in the world since then, too. What Woods hasn’t done, however, is what he’s valued most: win a major.

He has a last chance to win one this year. He’s in Louisville, Kentucky, for the PGA Championship this week at Valhalla Golf Club, one of the famed courses on the men’s circuit.

Yet no one expects Tiger Woods to be in the hunt for the PGA title, and the way Woods shot Thursday, he won’t. He’s ailing; he’s struggling to get through back and knee issues. He’s falling apart in front of people’s eyes.

To think about his decline is to point a mirror at his old friend Roger Federer. Like Woods, Federer was the king of the tennis court six years ago. He was feared as Woods was. Not anymore.

Greatness is fleeting, and an athlete has to grab as much of it as he can and cling tightly to it. When greatness starts to slip through their hands, they’ll never be able to capture what has gotten away from them. The best they can do is hold on to what is left, and for Woods, he might not have much left.

Even if Woods does, is his game a match for Rory McIlroy, who has taken ownership of the golf circuit the way Tiger Woods once did?

It would be nice to see a McIlroy-Woods rivalry in the sport. It would be nice for golf fans to see any rivalry — McIlroy, Woods or whomever else. They need that rivalry to care about the sport.

For most of the past six years, golf hasn’t been a sport that captured people’s interest, and most of that was because fans haven’t had a colorful player like Tiger Woods, winner of 14 majors, to follow.

He has been a shell of that great player over that span. He’s provided a glimpse of what he used to be, but Woods has never done so over those six years at a major. There, he’s been just another golfer.

When was the last time Tiger Woods was just another golfer?

That doesn’t matter much now. What does matter is, will golf fans ever see the Tiger Woods they remember from six years ago, back when he was simply the best?

The answer to the latter might be this: No, never.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

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