When it comes to the biggest question surrounding Tiger Woods, it seems like everyone has the answer.
Most of us who follow the game – and even plenty who don’t – arrive to the debate armed with an arsenal of opinions.
They range from the philosophical ...
“Can’t get his game right until he gets his mind right!”
… to the physical …
“I know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who says his knee is still killing him!”
... to the technical ...
“He’s got to get Butch Harmon on the phone – and then he’ll start dominating again!”
… to the irrationally statistical…
“You know, his proximity to the hole from 119-123 yards is below the median for a PGA Tour veteran of eight or more years!”
At varying degrees of plausibility, they are all responses to the most pressing recent question at 19th holes worldwide: “What's wrong with Tiger Woods?”
After winning the AT&T National on Sunday for his third victory of the year, we may finally have our decisive answer.
Absolutely nothing at all.
Sure, it may have been a valid query during each of the past two seasons, when Woods accounted for a grand total of zero wins, but just as it took the collective masses too long to realize and understand that he wasn’t the same player in those seasons, it has similarly taken awhile for observers to adapt to this latest version of Tiger.
So far this season, he has faltered at each of the first two major championships, but does own a trio of titles in 11 starts on the PGA Tour. He leads the money list, the FedEx Cup points list and is No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking – up from 52nd just seven months ago.
The truth is, if there’s a notion that something is wrong with Woods, it may be more of an 'us' problem than a 'him' problem.
The public tends to remember the 12-stroke win at Augusta National in 1997, the 15-shot differential at Pebble Beach in 2000 and the eight-shot triumph at St. Andrews one month later. What's forgotten, though, are the legions of backdoor top-10 finishes and final rounds marred by burned edges and weeks where he simply wasn't as good as the guy who won.
And there were plenty of 'em. From 1996-2009, Woods prevailed in 'only' 29.7 percent of his starts – easily good enough for the best percentage over that time span in a career, but hardly the revisionist history that would have us believing that number was somewhere closer to 99 percent.
Even when he was at the top of his game, Tiger was never a slam-dunk, no-doubt-about-it lock to take home the hardware. In some of his best seasons, he still lost more than he won. In 1999, his percentage was 38.1; the next year it jumped to 45.0; and in 2007, it was 43.8.
In fact, only twice has Woods triumphed in more than half of his PGA Tour starts in a season – when he won eight titles in 15 tries in 2006 and when he went 4-for-6 in his injury-shortened 2008 campaign.
All of which means “what’s wrong with Tiger Woods” is less about him reaching his previous levels or trying to surpass the bar that he personally raised increasingly higher, and more about him failing to live up to the unreasonable expectations based on foggy memories.
As the aforementioned question dissipates, it will lead to the other major proposal that inquiring minds have also been asking: “Is he back?”
Quite frankly, it’s a query for which every eyewitness can proffer a different answer. For some, he was “back” when he literally returned at the 2010 Masters; for others, he was “back” when he won again; for others still, he isn’t “back” until he wins his 15th major championship; and then there’s a faction who believes he can’t be “back” since he never technically left.
Woods often claims he doesn’t read the editorials or watch the talk shows, but he remains acutely aware of public sentiment when it comes to the state of his game.
Following his two-stroke win at Congressional Country Club, he said, “I remember there was a time when people were saying I could never win again. That was, I think, what? Six months ago? Here we are.”
Here we are, indeed, watching a new version of the player which is starting to look eerily similar to the former edition.
What’s wrong with Tiger Woods? Those still asking that question clearly own a skewed sense of history. Forget the perceived philosophical, physical, technical and statistical issues with his game. Really, there’s a different question which is much more valid.
We should be asking what’s right with him instead.