Tiger Woods missed the cut at the British Open on Friday.  I suppose missing a cut had to happen sometime, I just didn’t expect it would happen now.  And shockingly, Tiger was eliminated from the field in a major tournament, no less.   The last and only time Tiger missed the cut as a pro at a major was 3 years ago, not long after his beloved father, Earl Woods, died.  That day Tiger was still mourning the loss of the man who started him on his historic golfing trek – so really that time doesn’t count in my book. 080711_TigerWoods_2005_h.hmedium

This time – well — I don’t think he has any excuses.  Some of you might say he’s still recovering from last years knee surgery.   But I don’t buy it.   Tiger has been healthy enough to win three times already this year. Most recently he won his own tournament two weeks ago.  Still, strangely, Tiger has struggled mightily at various points in each of the three major tournaments so far this year.  Why?  Is his steely focus getting a little fuzzy?

You might wonder: What’s the big deal? Every golfer misses a cut every now and then. I say the big deal quite simply is that it’s Tiger Woods who missed the cut.  Tiger Woods is the exception.   He has already established in his 13 years as a pro and his extraordinary amateur career before that, that he is not just any golfer.  He is the phenom of all-time.  He is a once in a lifetime golf prodigy who has played the game like none before him and perhaps like none will after he is through.  When we watch Tiger, and we do in record numbers, we are literally watching history in the making.

Is there something wrong with losing?  If he was any other golfer I’d day no, there is nothing wrong.  But this is Tiger Woods, perhaps the greatest golfer we’ll ever see.

I can’t say that I saw this coming.  Yet I’m honestly not surprised.  He has actually played so poorly at times this year, it has been frustrating to watch him.   Sometimes his swings have had outright horrendous results.   In fairness,Tiger has always had a problem with keeping a golf ball straight and in the fairway on his drives.  But usually he is able to miraculously rally and turn a bad first shot into a fabulous second stroke leading to improbable pars, birdies and eagles.   But this year for the first time it is starting to appear that he may be running out of miracles.

There have been times that when I have watched Tiger play, especially lately – that I sometimes get this nagging feeling that someday, one day, he won’t be able to save himself.   He won’t be able to extract himself from the harms way his often errant shots place him in.   I ask myself, since I will probably never get the chance to ask Tiger:  Will he ever consistently drive the ball straight?  I really believe that if he ever starts hitting the ball straight with regularity he would rarely lose a tournament.  I’m very serious about that.  But what I’m struggling with in my critique of Tiger is that even with the flaw in his swing, he has already won more golf tournaments than all but two other golfers.   The only golfers in history with more wins than Tiger Woods are Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead.   And Tiger is only 33 years old.   But I do wonder if his 68 wins might already be 82 wins or more (an all-time record) if he simply started hitting it in the middle of the fairway more often.  What is so damn hard about that?  The average guy hits it straighter than Tiger.

I have to tell you, I feel very uncomfortable criticizing Tiger’s golf game, considering it is generally believed that he will end his career as the unchallenged greatest golfer ever, if he isn’t already.  But honestly as unthinkable as this sounds, I believe he could be and should be much better than he is.

So what’s wrong with Tiger?  Well I’m glad I asked.  I don’t think he plays in enough tournaments.  I also think he over-swings and I believe he over-thinks.   Golf is a simple game.   You hit the ball two or three times and then put it into the hole, then move on to the next hole and do it again.  There are no opponents except yourself.   And right now I think Tiger is his own worst enemy.

I know I’ve set myself up for harsh backlash for being critical of the world’s best golfer.  But go ahead and take your shots.   I can only tell you what I see.  And right now I see a guy who lately has played inexplicably badly – by his own extremely lofty standards – and has given away a few tournaments that he had no business losing.

Yes indeed golf is a tough and unforgiving game.  But I don’t think my eyes deceive me.   I honestly believe if Tiger doesn’t play in more tournaments, play with greater patience and stop second guessing his natural instincts he will squander the clear advantage he still has – of relative youth, physical prowess and mental toughness.   Mark my words, when he gets closer to 40 it will not be as easy to recover from errant shots with miraculous comebacks.  He will need to be straighter and smarter to win after the age of 40.

Okay, he will probably end his career with more wins than any other golfer, but after his stunningly poor performance in the British Open I’m no longer certain he is a cinch to win the 5 more majors he needs to break Jack Nicklaus’s record for wins at the majors.   Should it matter?  Well – yes actually, it should matter.   We’ve never paid more attention to a golfer than we have to Tiger Woods.   The reason we watch is because he has been extraordinary.  The moment Tiger starts looking like all the other guys – we’ll start treating him like those guys too.  Which means we won’t be watching Tiger nearly as much.   And we won’t really care.   I don’t want to see that happen.   I know I’m asking a lot.  Maybe I’m being unreasonable and unrealistic.   But we’re talking about Tiger Woods.    Tiger and ordinary just don’t go together.

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