Few would question there was a time, not long ago, when Eldrick (Tiger) Woods sat alone atop the world of golf. For about a decade he dominated the game like no other had before, and likely ever will again. Sure, there's a long list of golfing greats that preceded him, but Tiger was precedent-setting in several ways.
Let's be honest about it. When Woods burst upon the world scene, he was a black man playing basically a white man's game -- and it quickly became apparent he was playing at a level only known to him. He had every shot in the book, and seemingly a miracle up his sleeve whenever it was necessary.
With all due respect to a couple former golf greats, it could be argued that Tiger not only intimidated the competition more than Jack Nicklaus ever did, but also had a fan following that dwarfed any "army" Arnold Palmer ever had following him around the course -- or on TV, for that matter. Did that have anything to do with him being a "minority", a handsome guy with a great smile that was out there breaking new ground, and inspiring the next generation to dream of following in his footsteps? Perhaps.
And oh my, did he win. Not even counting all the other tournament championships he garnered, Tiger began racking up the "majors". A scant few years ago, who amongst us doubted that it was only a matter of time before Woods would surpass Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships? Whether one liked it or not, it seemed inevitable. He became married to a gorgeous woman, had two adorable little kids, and it was almost like a fairy tale, where everybody lives happily ever after.
But of course, we know that didn't happen. Besides the meltdown in his personal life, Woods experienced a rash of injuries. All of which led to a swift decline in his golf prowess. Then he parted company with his long time caddy -- and those guys are more important than many think -- and also fired his long time "swing" coach, and has since opted to try and reinvent his game with a new coach and a new swing. The results have not been good. Yes, Tiger won a tournament not long ago, but it seems like for every week he's competitive, there's another week when he's struggling to merely "make the cut", oftentimes against a field that doesn't include all the top players. Those 4 more major championships to equal Nicklaus, that once appeared to be a given, now seem to have disappeared over the horizon.
How far has he fallen? It's not just that he got dislodged from his throne from being the #1 player in the world for so long, but much worse. Think back. A few years ago, in any given tournament, there were many that would take Tiger over the entire "field" on a wager. Not a bad bet back then, but who would make it now? These days, despite all the hopes from his faithful fans, Woods not only seems to be a long shot to win, but some are betting on whether he'll even make the "cut" to continue play on the weekend. As I write this, Woods is 8 strokes back after just one round at the Players' Championship, the biggest tournament outside the usual "majors". That's a lot for one day. If he continues plodding along in the second round, he'll get blown off the course. And let's not forget, Woods doesn't play a full schedule. He'll take a week or two off here and there to "prepare" for a big event. If after all that -- if he still can't make the cut -- that's not a good sign.
It might just be that the golf world is missing the obvious. Maybe it's not about Tiger getting weaker. It's about the "field" getting stronger. There's young guns that are barely old enough to drink coming from every corner of the planet -- and not only are they really good and will get better -- they have the cocky conscience of youth that Tiger once had. They're not intimidated in the least by what Woods has accomplished in his past, and most likely think they could take Tiger on any given day on any given course. These guys aren't going away and, what's worse, there's teenagers all over the globe that are busy honing their games, and will be on the scene soon.
Will any of them dominate like Tiger once did? Probably not. There's so many in the "field" these days that can play so well, with yet others jumping in every year, that golf is likely approaching "parity", like most other pro sports. Whoever won last year, or even last week, doesn't seem to matter. The competition is too ferocious.
Eldrick Woods deserves credit for re-energizing the game of golf. It had become somewhat stagnant until he burst on the scene. Yet, in a cruel twist of irony, all those kids he inspired years ago to start taking golf seriously, and practicing like maniacs under every condition, have come back to bite him. Because they're there now, on the same course, and are beating him.
I truly believe the era is over.