Taming the Tiger
The top three signs that Tiger Woods is completely and totally off his game.
1. Scores. Tiger Woods finished this weekend's tournament at WGC-Bridgestone at +18, a full 30 shots off of the lead, and ended the tournament in 78th place out of 80 players in the weekend's tournament. This marks Tiger's worst score in any golf tournament as a professional player, and his worst four-round tournament at Firestone in his career, a course where he has previously failed to finish in worse than 4th place at any time in his professional career. This weekend saw Tiger shoot all four rounds over par at a golf tournament for the first time in nearly eight years, and only the fourth time in his 15-year career, the first time outside of one of the sport's four major championships.
2. The Goatee. Those who watched Tiger or saw this highlights this weeknend noted that the goatee is back for the first time in a few years. Although Tiger has done this before, I felt like I could tell from watching him this weekend that this time the goatee was there with a real purpose: to spark a comeback, a rebirth. To convince the others he was playing against, to convince the fans, and, I sense, most of all to convince himself that something has palpably changed from his play over most of the rest of this year, which has already seen some of Tiger's most human-looking performances in an otherwise glorious professional golfing career. As I looked at Tiger's scruff around his mouth this weekend, I could not help but think back to when Michael Jordan cracked out the goatee when he returned to the NBA in Washington and tried to help make the Wizards a champion or at least a contender. At some point when the greats who never thought they could lose it, suddenly feel like they've lost it, they turn to a cosmetic change like facial hair, haircut, their clothes or uniform, etc. as if that is actually going to have some positive impact on their sports performance. And, as was the case with MJ a decade ago, it rarely ever works.
3. Attitude. More than just reading the box scores on Monday morning, if you actually watched Tiger Woods play this weekend, then you saw a guy who is wholly different from the golfer we have watched so many times step up in the clutch, whack the ball down the middle of the fairway 25 yards further than anyone else, and just blow away the field on Sunday, if not on Thursday. Tiger simply did not exhibit one whit of the perserverance, of the concentration, and most of all of that absolute focus and insistence on winning, that has made people like him, Michael Jordan, etc. so successful over their careers. For the first time that I can recall, Tiger was walking up to the ball on Saturday and especially on Sunday, barely taking any time to prepare, make a read, take some practice swings or anything, and just hauling off and wailing the ball. Most often into the crowd, off some trees, or wherever it may land. In many many years of watching Tiger do his thing, this is the first and only time I have seen him looking so vulnerable, and just generally so damned human.
It was almost enough to actually make me sad for the guy.