Tiger’s Sputnik Moment

by Jeff Skinner

Tomorrow starts the dawning of a new era in golf.  The PGA Tour descends upon Torrey Pines in San Diego and we get to see the latest, but probably not the greatest version of Tiger Woods.  Woods returns to the tour after a 2010 season he would rather forget and an offseason spent with his new coach Sean Foley.  Maybe we can call it Tiger 4.0, his fourth new swing.  How about Tiger A.D. (after divorce).  The Godfather had the best sequel ever, The Godfather II so maybe we’ll call it Tiger Woods II.  Whatever we choose to call it, this season is Tiger’s most important since his rookie season.  We can say that this is Tiger’s Sputnik’s moment.

Woods comes back on a course he loves at Torrey Pines.  He has seven professional wins here including the one he called the biggest of his career, The 2008 U.S. Open.  That was his last major victory and he has been stuck at fourteen major wins for over two years.  That’s not the golf Woods has conditioned himself to play.  It’s not the way the plan was supposed to go.  He should have picked up a few majors last season but his personal disaster and swing meltdown has put the Nicklaus chase on hold for far too long.

Woods has seen the rest of the golf world catch up and pass him as he has not only fallen out of the top spot in the Official World Golf Rankings but now he has slipped to number three in the world.  He hasn’t been this low in the rankings since October of 2004.

The days of Tiger intimidating the rest of the best players in the world are over.  Many a time we saw the best in the world blow up when playing with Tiger in the final rounds of a tournament.  It was understood that Woods was usually two strokes up on anyone he teed off with in the last group on the final day, but Tiger’s cloak of invincibility is long gone.  What is left is a question mark.

Will Woods and Foley be successful in rebuilding the swing that brought courses to their knees and broke records at will?  Or will Woods struggle in his post fiasco life and have difficulty finding that special stroke that made him the greatest?

It’s difficult to imagine that Woods could play like a mere mortal as he did for most of the 2010 season.  With his physical skills, his championship experience and his incredible dedication to perfection, the only thing that could stop Woods from regaining at least some degree of his brilliance is himself.  His record on the golf course is unmatched.  His skill with a club bordered on supernatural and his focus was uncanny.  It’s those five inches between the ears that may do Tiger in.

Tiger Woods has shown the world that he is capable of extraordinary things on the golf course.  The events of last year have taken a toll on him and his game.  Now is his time to start anew, to begin a new chapter in his life.  He’s free of all the negative distractions that marred last year.  It’s all up to him now.  Will this sequel be a success like The Godfather II or a flop like Caddyshack II?  It’s all up to Tiger and it gets started tomorrow.


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