We saw that for ourselves Sunday afternoon as his golf game melted under the intensity of a major tournament.
Heading into the final round, Woods had a major title within his grasp. All he had to do was play with the skills that had him at the top of the leaderboard. But on his way to winning the British Open, he forgot how to putt.
What he did under the TV spotlight and the challenges of a deep field of good players was what we have seen too much of in Woods lately: he let the pressure get the better of him.
Before his self-imposed absence from golf, Woods seemed rarely to let nerves ruin his performance. He was a man who stalked the field, his presence looming over every major.
Golf, though, has always been a sport built around high drama. Those of us old enough to remember Jack Nicklaus and the fear “The Golden Bear” put into other men on the PGA Tour might understand what Woods used to do to the field.
He would send whispers through the gallery, and those golfers who played ahead or behind him knew what that meant. In those moments, during those events where Woods chased the leaders or led the field, golf was what it hadn’t been since the Nicklaus era. Tiger Woods was, we have to admit, a man of extraordinary presence.
It would be unfair to write his career off altogether. He’s 37, and the golfer who won the 2013 British Open, Phil Mickelson, is 43. Mickelson’s game looks as solid now as it did a decade ago when he was finishing second to Woods in most big events and in public fame.
Now, despite his ranking as No. 1 in the world, Woods is the lesser of the two golfers, and we should accept that fact.
No doubt golf is a sexier sport when someone like Woods is atop of the heap. He had the charisma and the cool that made him a LeBron James or Kobe Bryant on the links. Woods was to golf what Roger Federer used to be to men’s tennis. Both were the faces of their sports. But faces age; faces show signs of wear.
That has happened to Woods and to his old friend: Age has eroded their talent.
Not that Woods — or Federer — will never win another big event; actually, I expect Woods to add another major to his portfolio of championships. I just don’t expect Woods — nor should anybody else — to be the golfer he used to be, the man whose skills made him wealthy beyond belief, popular and the envy of everybody else in the sports world.
That’s a decent legacy to take into retirement, even for the man who people had thought would end his career with the title of the greatest golfer of all time.
Tiger Woods won’t get to lay claim to that, leaving his admirers and his critics to ask: What if Woods had kept his nerve, pushed aside personal distractions and focused on golf, how good could he have been?
I’ll answer that question for them: the best there ever was.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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