The story of this past weekend’s Masters was, of course, Big Bubba Watson bashing his way to his first major championship victory at Augusta. But even though Bubba took home his first green jacket, it’s impossible to dissect what happened at Augusta without at least paying a shred of attention to Stanford’s most famous former athlete. Of course, I’m talking about Tiger Woods and his self-described atrocious play at Augusta.
The 14-time major winner couldn’t do anything right in Georgia this past week, as he recorded his worst-ever finish after making a cut in a major and his worst-ever finish in the Masters by a long shot. And as I watched Tiger cuss and mope his way around Augusta this weekend, it became clearer than ever to me that the greatest golfer of our generation has lost the magic that he once had, and that he’ll never be able to get it back. As of this week, I feel more confident than ever in saying that Tiger doesn’t have a chance at passing Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major championship titles.
Indeed, there have been many detractors that have said that Tiger’s game post-sex scandal will never be the same, but why did this week in particular make me so willing to bury the future of Tiger’s golf game? Three reasons: his top-to-bottom awful golf game, the fact that his terrible play came at Augusta and the ever-quickening hands of time.
First and foremost, Tiger’s game is nowhere near where it used to be, and it didn’t show any signs of life at a course that he used to dominate. Off the tee, in typical fashion, Tiger didn’t even hit Augusta’s generous fairways 60 percent of the time. When he did hit the fairway, he hit the greens just 55 percent of the time — a dreadfully low number for him. And when he did hit the greens, while Tiger didn’t have that bad a week statistically speaking, he didn’t make any big-time putts to put himself into contention — the putts he never missed when he was at his peak. What’s more, every time he did something right, he immediately turned around and messed it up on the next shot. He’d hit a fairway then dump it in the greenside bunker. He’d knock it close to the pin then whiff a six-foot putt. His game, once a harmony of tee-to-green excellence, was an utter cacophony of catastrophe. That’s not the way you win a golf tournament, much less a major championship against the 100 best golfers in the world.
But even though Tiger’s game was no good this past week, the bigger problem was the fact that he played that poorly at Augusta — a course he has always dominated. Since turning pro, Tiger has played in 16 Masters tournaments, and he’s finished in the top 10 a whopping 12 of those times, including four wins. From 2005 to 2011, Tiger’s worst finish was a tie for sixth place in 2009. Those stats are what make his most recent Masters performance so startling. Tiger’s game has so utterly failed him that he can’t even play well on the course he’s been the most comfortable on during his career. From a guy who made Augusta his personal playground for more than a decade, it’s utterly shocking to see him struggle so mightily.
With that said, his performance at Augusta does not bode well for his future in major championships, the one area where he still lags behind Nicklaus. Tiger is only 36 years old, with a decade or more of majors ahead of him, but if he can’t even play well at Augusta anymore, how can we expect him to contend at any other major tournaments? There’s just no way Tiger can catch up to — and pass — Jack Nicklaus’ record if he can’t even contend at Augusta anymore, the course that has always presented Tiger with his best chance to win majors. As time ticks further into the future and Tiger’s body and game continue to change and look less and less like the man who stormed his way to 14 major titles, how can we expect him to regain his greatness? While he might win another major or two (if he’s lucky), it’s flat-out unrealistic to expect this iteration of Tiger Woods to dip into the fountain of youth and start carving up courses again.
I didn’t think it would ever come to this a couple years ago, but finally, in April 2012, this Masters finally showed me one thing: Tiger’s dominance has slipped away. And it’s never coming back.
Jack Blanchat didn’t take into account what would happen if Tiger gets a hold of one of Bubba’s pink drivers. Tell Jack how well pink will match Tiger’s Sunday red at blanchat “at” stanford.edu or follow him on Twitter @jmblanchat.