Will He Ever Make it Back to the Tour? Tiger Woods says he can come back, he says he can compete for titles with the current crop of players, he says he has the desire to tee it up again and be a part of the PGA Tour. The question really isn't whether he thinks he can, or even if he wants to. The real question is, after spending most of the last 35 years or so swinging violently at a golf ball, will his now surgery wracked body be capable of supporting him? Of course no one really knows the answer, probably not even Tiger himself. In a week when arguably the most dominant individual athlete in history during his unbelievable stretch from 1999 to 2008 announced through his agent that he wouldn't be competing in 2016, the golf world was saved from his absence and the Olympic debacle by the incredible performances of Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson at The Open Championship at Troon. But Mickelson is 46, Stenson 40. It's unlikely that this past weekend's dual will spark any kind of lasting rivalry. But since it's been over eight years since Tiger's last major, perhaps the ship has sailed on anyone counting on a miraculous comeback by him to rejuvenate the game.
I've written a lot about the dominance of Tiger and about the fact that when it was happening, we didn't necessarily realize how historical his run was. I believe it's because he was chasing numbers, such as Jack Nicklaus' 18 major championships and Sam Snead's 82 career victories, that were accumulated over decades of play. Nicklaus won his last major at the age of 46 and Snead earned his final tournament win at 53. At the time of his last major win and 65th overall, the 2008 U.S. Open that he won on basically one leg, Tiger Woods was a mere 32 years of age. By the end of 2009, he'd pushed that total to 71, but without an additional major victory. In eleven seasons (1999 - 2009) he managed to chalk up 13 majors and 64 tour wins. That's a major tournament winning percentage of an unbelievable 29.5% over that span! The closest any of his contemporaries has come to that is Mickelson himself, who stands at five majors. Contrast that to Nicklaus' competition over his career: Palmer had 7, Player 9, Watson 8 and Trevino 6. Other than Player, very few international golfers competed on the PGA Tour, so while there were some good players at the top, the depth that exists today just wasn't there. There were no World Golf Championship events, where the fields are stacked with the top players in the world. And by the way, Woods dominated those as well. This isn't to diminish Nicklaus' accomplishment in any way, but to further illustrate just how good Tiger Woods was relative not only to his playing peers, but to all time. Will we ever see that kind of dominance again? Perhaps for shorter periods of time, as we've seen recently from Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Speith and Jason Day. But to sustain that level of play for more than a decade is highly unlikely. And just to add to the resume, from 1996 - 1998, Woods won seven times with a major, and continued in 2012 - 2013 with eight more victories.
Will Tiger Woods play tournament golf again? I sure hope so. Will he win another tournament? His history would indicate that if he plays, he'll win. Will he ever win another major? It's highly doubtful, but a lot more players are winning majors in their forties, and I have to believe he'll only come back if he can compete. Does it really matter to his legacy? Not so much, unless we somehow think he could do something no one has ever done, and win four majors in their forties. Do I think, regardless of his return, if the state of professional golf is in good hands? Judging by the enthusiastic crowds I witnessed firsthand at the U.S.Open, I would have to say yes, but the game in general is suffering (that's a topic for another time). Am I more likely to watch a golf tournament when Tiger Woods is playing? Absolutely, and I'm pretty sure that's a sentiment shared by a lot of golf fans, whether they're willing to admit it or not.
Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first two, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel" and "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords. Tune into www.WPFLRADIO.com at 8:40 am EST every Friday for my Beyond the Commentary segment on "Lou in the Morning" with Lou Vickery and Jonathan McMath.