During the first decade of the 21st century, few if any athletes were as dominant in their sport as Tiger Woods was at golf. At 21 years old, he won the 1997 Masters by a record 12 strokes, reached the number one world ranking in June and through the 2000s, held the sport’s best player recognition with a vice grip. He won the Masters and the PGA Championship four times, and the U.S. Open and the Open Championship three times. He became the youngest player to achieve the career Grand Slam (Masters, U.S. Open, Open Championship, PGA Championship) and the quickest to achieve 50 tournament wins.
Tiger Woods was seemingly unstoppable, unable to be teetered to even above-average play. Dominance was established in the gentleman’s sport and his televised intensity and heart won over fans. Record-shattering and award-accumulating, no one could even touch Tiger’s shoes. From August 1999 to September 2004, Tiger was number one, a total of 264 weeks, more than five years. Vijay Singh overtook Woods that September but there was no question, no shadow of a doubt, who the best was. After regaining the ranking in June 2005, he blossomed under it for another five years.
There was no debate. One could argue Phil Mickelson if their fandom biased them, but there was never a different answer to the question, “Who is the best golfer in the world?” It was in concrete and would not crack under the ground-breaking force of earthquakes, the weathering of tsunamis, the devastation of hurricanes or the raw violence of tornadoes.
Tiger Woods was so phenomenal that he was a symbolic model more than he was an athlete. His continuous ability to clean up perfectly after a missed shot, bounce back after missing a par or make an insane putt at the most crucial time in a contest formed the quintessential embodiment of supremacy and athletic evolution. His execution was sublime and yet never failed to astonish nor seemed to plateau.
His swing, which experts claimed was unorthodox and put excessive strain on his knees, never caused significant problems for him. After missing months from knee surgery, he won the 2008 U.S. Open in dramatic fashion, many saying he did so on one leg. The undisputed god of golf could not be crippled.
Woods was matchless to the point that experts began debating if he was bad for golf and in an attempt to diminish him, began “Tiger-Proofing” the courses, adding yardage to try to eliminate Woods’ powerful swing.
To my knowledge, no athlete has ever been so good, so beyond his competitors, that the sport changed the rules in an effort to lower him. The rules of basketball were never changed to deter Michael Jordan nor the net shrunk to stop Gretzky. Woods was that good.
Woods was so absolute, the sport was beneath him. Woods stood on the golf world for a decade with forceful posture and no one could push him off.
No one, of course, except for his wife.
The day after Thanksgiving in 2009, Tiger Woods crashed his Cadillac Escalade near his home and suffered minor injuries. Reports came out that the back window had been smashed by a golf club. Woods claimed his wife had broken it to help him get out of the vehicle, a bogus explanation that only lit a fire under the heels of the paparazzi and media.
The phrase “field day” had never reached such a pinnacle since the birth of the new century. In the following weeks, more than a dozen women claimed to have had an affair with Woods.
And like that, one of the greatest athletes of all-time was gone.
Woods was blessed beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. His perfection had become assumed, his character beloved and his passion unquestioned. Woods was legendary, untarnished and unscathed. He was the 21st century’s first champion, unparalleled and unequaled.
However, like Icarus in the infamous tale of long, long ago, Woods dared to push the world and more importantly, his creator, to the brink. Like that, in the blink of an eye, his talent was gone. Woods was able to escape every sand trap, rough and injury that had tried to catch him, but he could not avoid the grasp of karma.
Karma is unavoidable. Some may debate its existence, but there can be no explanation for Woods’ dramatic dissent except for the power of karma. Woods had tweaked his swing and form in the past, minor variations that could hardly be seen by even the most avid golf fanatics. His putting was game-changing year after year. Once his disloyalty to his wife was revealed, all that Tiger Woods had come to epitomize was gone.
Most importantly, his game, the skill that brought such grandeur to greens across the country, vanished.
It was as if the soul of Tiger Woods’ astounding ability was its own individual and upon hearing of its owner’s misdeeds, walked out the door for good, never to be seen again.
Woods has been searching for it ever since like a pirate pursuing a city of gold. It is a myth, a legend, something that has no evidence to prove its existence.
That is what makes Woods’ exploration all the more unnerving. He knows it exists. He saw it with his own eyes for ten years. He grasped it in his hands, pumped his fists with the same blood in his veins as he has now. The golden fleece, Poseidon’s trident, use whatever mythological symbol you want, Woods had it. Karma stole it from him and he’s been determined to get it back ever since.
But he can’t.
Weeks ago, 15 years after winning the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by a record 15 shots, Woods signed an 80, his worst score as a pro in 19 starts in the national championship that he’s won three times. During his miserable outing, there was a cheater banner literally flying over his head. He finished with a four round total of 302 (+14) at the Memorial, the worst 72-hole total of his career. He played the course by himself and had to pick up his own flag.
The undisputed face of golf, a crowned king, has become a novice at the sport he ruled over with such authority. His aptitude was innate, practiced and refined to leagues beyond leagues of merit.
Golf fans no longer care about Tiger Woods. Had Woods played a sport with less esteem like football, organized by a league that consistently excuses misdeeds off of the playing field, Woods would have suffered still, but nowhere near the loss that he has. Golf is the gentleman’s sport, pursued by those of all social standings with moral codes very much intact. Woods did not simply cheat on his wife. He cheated on the very foundation of golf. It was as if a famed ruler had spit in the face of the very country he represented.
Golf has had an identity crisis ever since the woods were torn down and now Jordan Spieth’s recent exploits may have finally given the sport the resurrection it has been searching for.
But Woods will not give in. Like a gold trophy long blemished, golf has been unable to unbolt it from the wall it adorned for so long. In a recent news conference, Woods has said he has no plans to retire. This, despite the fact that his last major victory was at the 2008 U.S. Open, that he’s dropped to 241st in the world golf rankings and that he’s gone more than a year and a half without a top-10 finish.
The persistence once admired has become a flaw. His quest for perfection has become a plight on his play and his hard-headed ego remains unconfrontable.
That is how the legend of Tiger Woods will end. The ball has been in the sand trap for five years and we are helpless as we watch Tiger swing and swing and swing with an uncontrollable rage, missing again and again. At first it was just desserts, then it was a comedy sketch, but now, it’s just sad.
It’s time to put the tiger down. No more roars will come from its jaws. No more will its coat adorn a fancy jewel or have the luxury of drinking from pure silver. No longer can it hunt an elusive prey. No longer can it jump the ravine to model in front of its innumerable visitors.
The tiger must decide if it will submit to the needle or continue to try to cover a distance it cannot cover as it falls into the depths below. Either way, no one’s watching.