The man who electrified the sporting world when he won the 1997 Masters by a record 12 strokes at the age of 21 is not the player he once was.
Tiger Woods is now 35 years old. He is still on pace to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major victories.
However, Woods has gone 11 majors without winning, the longest streak of his career. Heck, he hasn’t won since Sept. 23, 2009.
That’s not to say Woods still won’t break Nicklaus’ record. In early March, Nicklaus said it was too early to dismiss Woods’ chances.
But that was before the Masters performance Woods turned in this past weekend.
Yes, the literal “Tiger roar” returned to Augusta, Ga., as Woods made a Sunday charge on the front nine. In the past, Woods has made clutch putt after clutch putt to run away with the victory while others faded.
That didn’t happen this weekend.
He missed short putt after short putt. Even after leader Rory McIlroy collapsed, Woods couldn’t capitalize, and finished No. 33 in putting at the Masters.
It’s fair to say the aura is gone. The younger players aren’t scared of Woods anymore. Sure, McIlroy buckled. But Jason Day, Adam Scott and the eventual Masters champion, Charl Schwartzel, all of whom are younger than Woods, didn’t blink. The 26-year-old Schwartzel birdied his last four holes on Sunday. How’s that for wilting under Woods’ pressure?
Pressure is something Woods also puts on his body. Even his revamped swing involves incredible torque on his left leg.
Shortly after he won the 91-hole 2008 U.S. Open, Woods revealed he’d been playing with a torn ACL in his left knee for more than 10 months, and had also suffered a double stress fracture in his left leg two weeks before the U.S. Open. Woods’ surgery to repair his left knee following the tournament was the third on his left knee since 2003.
On Monday, Michael Wilbon, co-host of ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption,” said Woods should play more in order to induce more muscle memory and that Woods can’t afford to take so many tournaments off in between majors anymore. But, it appears Woods has no plans of doing that.
Early last month, Woods was asked why he’d only played nine competitive rounds so far in 2011.
“Well, because I have a family. I’m divorced,” Woods said. “If you’ve been divorced with kids, then you would understand.”
The only court Woods had to appear in following his personal transgressions was divorce court. He split from former wife Elin Nordegren on Aug. 23, 2010 — but he was executed in the court of public opinion. Perhaps he truly has become a family man.
Whether it’s an incomplete game, a lost aura, an injury history or family devotion, it’s clear Woods is a different man. What remains to be seen is whether he can break Nicklaus’ record, something that’s always been his No. 1 goal.