Writer debate: Is the old Tiger back?

March 8, 2012

Tiger Woods shot a 62 in the final round Sunday at the Honda Classic, falling just short of catching Rory McIlroy for the title. Now he's on the course at the WGC-Cadillac Championship looking to build off last week's success. But is the old Tiger Woods officially back? Our writers debate.

From: Greg Couch
To: Bill Reiter, Jen Floyd Engel, Jason Whitlock

At this point, Tiger Woods is still closer to being a Navy SEAL than he is to being his old Tiger self. Really, really, really wanting Tiger to be Tiger again does not make it so.

Neither does his 62 this past Sunday, or his second-place finish to Rory McIlroy at the Honda Classic. When Tiger was Tiger, he had a word for finishing second:



Woods was always too great to let his personal nightmare ruin him entirely. But it just isn’t realistic for him to be golf’s god again, get back his intimidation and his unbreakable killer mentality. He’s going to win another major or two, maybe, but he isn’t going to catch Jack Nicklaus’ major record.

I’m not an anti-Tiger guy, and even hope I'm wrong. I met him when he was just a kid, at his house in California. He showed me the driving range set-up he had in his garage. Then, I followed him around at the junior world golf championships. Very early in his career, I happened to be a golf writer, which is to say a Tiger Woods writer. In Chicago one year, thousands of fans jumped over the ropes and walked neatly behind him on the way up the 18th fairway.

It was a thrill to watch every swing. How can you not wish to see that again? But that Tiger is gone.

People were just expecting him to be done with his personal issues this year, healed as if he had a sprained ankle. Then, the mania could continue. So he got somewhat close a few times this year, then fell apart to nobodies (Robert Rock?). This week, he closed with his amazing 62.

Yes, that is improvement. But at this point, he’s just any other top golfer out there, albeit with a resume that possibly makes him the best player ever.

This isn’t meant to punish him for his personal crisis. The sex life of consenting adults never was any of our business. It’s just that everything changed the night his personal life became public.

His success was never just about the technical skills of swinging a golf club. It was about his attitude, his mentality. In a game where half the competitors were happy to collect a check for finishing in the top 10, Woods thought of second place as a loss. It was a fired-up mentality for a sleepy game, the same mentality that apparently had him thinking about giving it up to try to be a Navy SEAL.

That’s what his ex-coach, Hank Haney, wrote in his book. Woods snipped at writers for asking him about it recently. Probably embarrassed.

In the old days, everyone was scared of Woods. But that’s gone. Robert Rock was fine. Phil Mickelson was motivated. McIlroy didn’t notice.

Part of Woods’ intimidation was his perfection. That’s gone, too.

Now, golfers have a tendency to be nervous nellies out there. But they aren’t going to fold to Woods anymore.

Besides, he has had way too many injuries and surgeries. And now, at 36, he is at a brittle age physically, too.

No, Woods is not back, and is not even close. To look at a second-place and one great round of golf and think that’s the old Tiger you’re looking at? Well, that’s an insult to the old Tiger.

From: Bill Reiter

Greg, I'm disappointed in you. As a fellow Chicagoan and long-suffering Cubs fan, I expected you to deliver the one trait that's always made guys from there who we are: Hope.

I still believe the Cubs will win a World Series. I still think the Bears are just a few pieces away. And I still believe that lurking somewhere inside this damaged version of Tiger Woods is the killer who is so tantalizingly close to Jack's record. That 62 Sunday? Proof, to my hopeful self, that Old Tiger is just waiting to overtake New Tiger and then, surely, the golf world.

Will the guy dominate again? Probably not. Not like before. Not in a way in which his mere presence made the top one percent of the top one percent of all golfers in the world quiver, shake and take on strokes. But I still think — want to think, yes, and so do think — that he will break the record. That he will find himself. Days like Sunday show me he's still in there.

I get it, Greg. The other thing about Chicagoans is they tend to be a tough, candid, no-bull people, and that's surely where you're coming from (to say nothing of your misguided notion they should tear down Wrigley Field). I actually respect and understand intimately this part of your makeup and your reasoning. My granddad was from there, worked in the stockyards there, got married in Chi-town and had his first children there. He's my namesake — the original William Reiter — and no man I've ever met was more quick with what he really thought, regardless of how folks would take it. That kind of honesty is integrity, Chicago style. No doubt. But my Chicago grandpa also left a soft spot — a love steeped in hope and joy and even a young boy's whimsical nature — for his sports teams, first and foremost the Cubbies.

That, too, is Chicago. And from one Chicagoan to another I gotta say, Greg: Jump back on the bandwagon. Believe in miracles. Be a second city kind of guy and look for Tiger's second coming. Hope is good, especially in a place with so much straight talk.

From: Jen Floyd Engel

By any golfing standard Tiger is back, save one. His.

We keep waiting for Tiger to start being Tiger again, failing to realize that version of Tiger — for better or worse — disappeared when Elin smashed that golf club into his fleeing car. His facade of invincibility is gone, the karma train pulled into his station or, more likely, his dumping of Hank Haney finally caught up to him. Whatever the reason, the Tiger who used to impose his will on entire tournaments, intimidate by simply teeing off and win in crazy proportion to how often he played is gone.

I remember when Tiger used to come through Fort Worth, playing Colonial, my dad told me to soak in every moment because a Jack does not come along too often. We have forgotten how rare true athletic greatness is, confused genius with likability.

I loved watching Tiger play — his red shirts, his dog-cussing, the ease and beauty of his game. I still do. I still believe he's great.

Tiger, to me, is like U2. I am a huge fan, probably have seen Bono, The Edge and the boys in concert more than all performers not named Bruce Springsteen combined. They are the rock band of my lifetime, and I so tire of hearing people tell me how they are just not as good as they once were.

U2's problem is they are so damn good that somebody is always comparing them to them. This is a very hipster thing to do, talking about how so-and-so's new stuff is not as good as their old. Oh Couch and Reiter, you sports hipsters you. The thing is if you keep waiting for the next Joshua Tree, you will always be disappointed. Comparing every song to Where The Streets Have No Name proves equally nonsensical.

Great is still great, even if it comes from a guy who used to consistently delivering amazing.

If we dismiss this, we miss "So Cruel" from the album Achtung Baby (underrated) and "Walk On" both from All That You Can't Leave Behind and Live from London on America: A Tribute to Heroes (maybe, my favorite U2 song ever) and "If God Will Send His Angels" from wildly criticized Pop. What we miss is the truth: That even on their worst day, their worst album, U2 is better than 90 percent of music being produced.

Same for Tiger and golf.

Old Tiger is gone, which is fine because it gives Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy and everybody else a chance. The green is level. Tiger will never be Tiger again and that is OK, because his new normal is still pretty damn good.

From: Jason Whitlock

Greg, the whole time I'm reading your take on Tiger Woods, I'm thinking about Peyton Manning. He's basically the same age as Tiger. Peyton just went through an amicable-but-still-painful divorce with the Indianapolis Colts. Peyton and Jim Irsay bickered a bit in the media. OK, what Manning experienced is nothing like what Tiger went through after the Thanksgiving crash. But, like Tiger, Manning is past his prime and entering a strange new world while trying to recover from injury.

Manning, Woods and LeBron James are the three biggest athletic stars of the new millennium, right? We thought Manning might win multiple Super Bowls and surpass Joe Montana. We thought LeBron would become a champion and global icon like Michael Jordan. And we thought Tiger would blow past Jack Nicklaus.

The weight of expectations is obviously heavier than my bowel movements after an evening spent at a Gates BBQ buffet.

Expectations — his own and ours — crushed Tiger Woods. The guy just shot a 62 on Sunday and the first thing you, an admitted Tiger fan, want to say is it's proof he's not the old Tiger Woods. Tiger can't make anyone happy. It's why I don't enjoy eating as much as I used to. People expect me to eat too much. The pressure has robbed the joy of devouring a Wendy's triple cheeseburger.

I'm glad you've given up on Tiger. I hope everyone jumps off his bandwagon. Maybe once we quit expecting greatness from Tiger, he will give it to us again for an extended period. I still say he wins 20 major championships.

Writing this has made me hungry. Bye.