I write this with much trepidation, with the realization that I could be proven wrong as early as next week. But here goes -
Want me to elaborate? Okay. Through. Finished. Call it a career.
I just watched Tiger finish the Bridgestone Invitational in 78th place out of an 80-man field. Eighteen over par. Career-worsts for him in terms of finish and relationship to par. Worst in his career. That bears repeating - worst in his career. He has had bad rounds in tournaments before, but he has always backed up a putrid 75 with a stellar 67. But at the Bridgestone, he started flat and ended flatter - the first time that he showed nothing. And while it is easy to write it off as simply a bad week and trying to read too much into it by extrapolating it to such definitive statements as his career is over, allow me to delve a little -
When I was much younger, I had a pretty good golf game - a single-digit handicap, could hold my own in amateur events. I played that way for about fifteen years. Then one day I had a routine chip shot that I had executed thousands of times before…and I missed the ball. I whiffed it. It was a totally out-of-the-blue gak. And it stunned me. Up until that point I was more or less bulletproof on chipping, but that singular shot permanently planted an ugly thought into my brain - “Don’t miss the ball, idiot.” Ever since that day, which was over thirteen years ago, I cannot execute a chip shot without that thought creeping in, and I am a basket case around the greens as a result. My 3-handicap is now a 12, and my competitive days are long gone.
Now I know what’s coming next - Jer, you ain’t no Tiger Woods. Well duh. True. Tiger has exhibited the ultimate in brain power, the ability of zoning out anything and everything not pertaining to the task at hand. His singular focus is legendary. Hoganesque. Nicklausian.
But somewhere between hitting that fire hydrant last November and now, Tiger metaphorically whiffed. A seed has been planted in his brain. His lines have been blurred. His focus is gone. When he enters his arena inside the gallery ropes, no longer is the crowd reverently silent. The majority still is, but there is now a sinister element present - the heckler. And he does not know where or when it will strike. Trust me on this - it is a tough enough game to have to navigate 7,000 yards of water, rough, traps, lightning-fast greens and trees, but Tiger has done that prodigiously. But now there is an element he has no control over whatsoever. It can strike at any time, and he knows it.
It is in this knowing where his downfall will occur. Frankly, I already think it has. It’s in his kitchen. It is that same thought I have now over a chip shot - “Don’t miss it” for me has become “Don’t yell out something in my backswing” for him. And once that thought is there, it’s THERE. Like, forever.
Can he overcome this? Sure. If anyone has the mental fortitude to do it, it’s Tiger. But remember how he would stop in mid-swing over the click of a camera? That’s how fragile the psyche of a pro golfer is. For all of Tiger’s mental discipline, a click of a camera ruins him. Well, you can ban cameras, but you can’t stop some jerk from saying something when he’s only 20 feet away.
It goes without saying (but I will anyway) that 2010 is a lost cause. And his rehabilitation from this nadir will go beyond the usual routines of someone who has lost their swing. Yes, he has clearly lost his swing, but he will find it again. His putting has been atrocious, but that too can be found on the practice green through rote and repetition.
But how do you erase a thought?
This bears repeating as a coda - tied for 78th, 18 over par. Career worsts by a mile. His invincibility has been pierced - not by being outplayed by his peers., but by a mustard seed of a thought.