A lot of people have said that it would be impossible to maintain the pace he set for those two impossible years, and I tend now to believe them. He was unbelievable. But something has happened, just as it happened to Fred Couples and Nick Price the last decade, and before them, Curtis Strange and Johnny Miller. Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus lasted longer, but the numbers also caught up to them eventually. Now it remains to be seen what will happen to Woods, but it is possible that he will face a Price fallout where he will remain merely a good player, not necessarily a great one.
Were injuries the problem the second half of the season? Was it finally fatigue? A personal situation we dont know about? Did the rest of the PGA Tour get so motivated that they raised their games to his level? Whatever ' it left the man a mere mortal, a man who the previous 30 months or so looked like the greatest player in history. He may still be The Man ' this may just be a half-year when he catches his breath and zooms out to another seven or eight wins next year. But clearly it has some Tiger-Watchers a mite concerned.
The Tiger Mystery begins at the U.S. Open in mid-June, where only an impressive final day when everyone else collapsed got him a tie for 12th. From there through the next two months, he got worse ' a tie for 16th in the Buick Open, followed by a tie for 20th in the Western, followed by a tie for 25th in the British Open and a tie for 29th in the PGA. Notice that each tournament, he slowly but surely dropped a bit in the final standings.
Tiger won the WCG-NEC Invitational in a marathon playoff over Jim Furyk, and despite the limited field, those who quietly wondered about Woods recent erratic play were roundly criticized. Ho-ho-ho, slump, huh? Such foolishness, they said.
Still, the silent critics wondered yet again when Tigers last three attempts of the season netted no higher than a tie for 13th. And he still hasnt substantially improved.
A lot of players were at least Woods equal the second half of the season. Davis Love III finished in the top five in four of his last five events. David Toms won a couple of times the second half of the year and tied for second at the Tour Championship. Vijay Singh had seven top-10s the second half, playing a schedule that roughly paralleled that of Tiger. Bob Estes admittedly played a much easier schedule coming to the finish line, but the worst finish in his last six tournaments was a tie for eighth.
Something happened to Eldrick T. Woods. And people who think that the Masters took so much out of him are just mistaken. I can see that excuse holding water for a couple of months. After that ' uh-huh. Youll have to dig deeper than that.
Maybe hes just taking a breather until next season begins. Maybe he was hurt much more than he let on. Maybe there was something troubling him. Maybe well, you tell me.
At any rate, he was just an average player the second half. No, I dont expect him to be an average player in 2002. He is far too good a player for that.
Will he win eight times again in a season? Nine times? Or has the rest of the tour finally caught up? Will new blood like Sergio Garcia or Charles Howell or David Gossett cut further into his victory total? Or ' was the second half of 2001 merely a convenient place to pause and catch his breath, readying for yet another victory bonanza?
In short, is Tiger really to become the greatest player who ever lived? Or - is he just the best player of his generation?