Age of Tiger: Woods has already run out of time

By Joe PosnanskiAugust 15, 2015, 6:00 pm

So, if you’re a Peanuts fan, you might remember that for a time Peppermint Patty believed that she was an angel put on earth to pass along one specific message. The message? “If a foul ball is hit behind third base, it’s the shortstop’s ball.”

I’ve often wondered, as many have I suppose: What is my message to the world?

And I think it’s this: Athletes always age faster than you think they do.

OK, it’s not exactly that kinetic energy equals mass times the speed of light squared or that brevity is the soul of wit or that Soylent Green is made from people, but it’s the best I’ve got. It just seems like people keep refusing to accept that athletes in all sports — every single one — fade so much more quickly than you would expect them to. This is particularly tough to accept in baseball and golf, two sports where there is little violence* and numerous examples of older players beating the odds.

(*Aside from an occasional John Daly club throw into the ocean.)

In baseball, the unwillingness to understand how quickly players decline has cost teams billions of dollars. GM’s will keep signing 30-somethings with the hope and expectation that they will perform more or less like they did in their younger days. This is baseball’s definition of insanity.

Three years ago, I asked this question: Which duo of baseball players would you rather have for the next five years, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton or Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez? I emphasized the point by adding that money is no object: I was simply asking which would be the better duo for five years, Pujols and Hamilton or Hosmer and Perez.

The question seemed so stupid at the time that, well, you can read some of the comments if you want. At the time, there was so much buzz about the Angels acquiring the two former MVPs. Pujols had been the best player in baseball for a decade. Hamilton was thought by many to be pretty close to that level when healthy. Few knew who Hosmer and Perez even were.

Well, we’re only three years into the deal — the turn happened even faster than I thought it would:

Since 2012:

Pujols and Hamilton: 11 WAR (wins above replacement), one All-Star appearance.

Perez and Hosmer: 17.7 WAR, three All-Star appearances, five Gold Gloves, one World Series appearance.

Hamilton has already been dumped. Pujols is having something of a renaissance season because he has 30 home runs, but it’s a facade: He’s now a defensive liability (after being a great defender), and his on-base percentage is down to .312 — he has basically become a one-dimensional homerun hitter. Meanwhile, Perez is probably the best catcher in the American League and Hosmer is coming into his own at age 25. If you asked the question now, the answer would be even more obvious than it was in 2012 — and it would be the opposite answer of 2012. Bet on youth. Always bet on youth.

This premise of aging fast is even more controversial in golf. I’ve written about this so many times that, yes, you’re undoubtedly sick of it. But the message just isn’t getting out there. Again and again, there are stories and analyses and comments asking what’s wrong with Tiger Woods? And people just refuse to accept that there’s nothing wrong with Tiger Woods. He’s 40 years old or will be in a few months. And this is what happens.



Take a look at these two charts. First will be the golfers who have won the most majors through age 35. The second will be the golfers who have won the most majors 36 and older.


Most Majors through age 35:

T-1. Tiger Woods, 14.
T-1. Jack Nicklaus, 14.
3. Walter Hagen, 10
4. Tom Watson, 8
5. Arnold Palmer, Gene Sarazen, Bobby Jones, 7.


Bobby Jones is obviously a tricky one because he actually won six U.S. and British amateur championships that were considered major in his day. But you get the point.


Most majors 36 and older:

1. Ben Hogan, 8
2. Sam Snead, 5
3. Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Phil Mickelson, 4.


You will notice only one player makes the Top 5 of both lists — Nicklaus. It is what sets him apart. But it goes beyond that. Now, let’s give you the first list again, but in parentheses I’ll show you how many majors those golfers won after age 35.


T-1. Tiger Woods, 14 (0)
T-1. Jack Nicklaus, 14 (4)
3. Walter Hagen, 10 (1)
4. Tom Watson, 8 (0)
T-5. Arnold Palmer, 7 (0)
T-5. Gene Sarazen, 7 (0)
T-5. Bobby Jones, 7 (0)


Other than Nicklaus, who reinvented himself after 35, these top golfers won a combined one major championship after they turned 35. Yes, they had different circumstances (Jones retired, for instance). But Byron Nelson never won one after 35. Seve Ballesteros never won won after 35. Lee Trevino and Nick Faldo won one each after 35. Of the greatest golfers, the only two who were great on both sides of the 35-year line are Nicklaus and Player. And Player is famous for being, essentially, unbreakable.

Woods’ real issue, when it comes to catching Nicklaus on the all-time majors list, isn’t what he’s doing now. He lost the race when he didn’t win a major championship in 2009, when he was 33, then after the scandal didn’t win majors at ages 34 and 35. That was when he physically could still win. He finished top six on six occasions then. He did have a real shot, at 36, to win the 2012 Open Championship at Royal Lytham — he entered the final day a shot ahead of eventual winner Ernie Els. But Els, who is six years older than Woods, shot 68 on the final day. Tiger shot 73, and that was that.

Though Woods has talked about how he has given himself many chances to win majors since then, he really has not. He made an illegal drop at the 2013 Masters and finished fourth (many thought he should have disqualified himself) and he entered the final day of the Open Championship that year just two shots back, but he never sparked on Sunday. Since then, he has missed more major championship cuts (four) than he has made (three).

And sure, you can talk about his many swing changes. You can talk about how he won five regular tournaments in 2013 and made it back to No. 1 in the world. You can talk about how there are moments, sometimes nine-hole stretches, occasionally even entire days when he looks like the old Tiger.  But these are the illusions that keep us thinking that the years are standing still. And they are just that: Illusions.

The swing changes are the sign of a man whose body is breaking down – he can’t swing the club like he once did, and he keeps looking for remedies. Getting back to No. 1 in the world in 2013 was nice, but it was a paper title at best – you can’t truly be the best golfer in the world if you are not winning majors. Heck, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood have also been No. 1 in the world. And the short stretches where he looks like the young Tiger? Sure, they’ll keep happening. You know what? There are times still when Tom Watson looks like the young Tom Watson, and he’s turning 66 next month. It doesn’t last.

People keep wanting to make this about some mystical thing in the desperate belief that Woods will someday turn on a switch and become great again. Well, people have been looking for that switch since a guy named Juan Ponce de Leon. Woods can keep practicing, keep adjusting, keep searching for his feels, keep trying to find the bottom of his swing, keep working on his alignment and all that but in the end, he’s 40 now. This is who Tiger is now. People want to talk about how he has 10 more years of being competitive; it seems to me they’re just kidding themselves. Maybe with practice and a new focus and a shift in his thinking he might at some point become competitive again, and if he can become competitive again there’s a chance he can have a magical week or two. But even if that does happen – and the odds are against it happening – he will have to find a way to compete as an older golfer. This is not a new story. It’s the oldest story going.

It was sad watching Woods flounder at the Open Championship last month, and it was sad watching him stagger and stumble at the U.S. Open the month before that, but something felt different about his third consecutive major championship missed cut this week at the PGA Championship. This time, it felt a bit more ceremonial, somehow. Yes, he still cursed up a storm after bad shots, and he still looked frustrated, and his self-evaluations still seemed somewhat separated from reality. But he was introduced as the 1999, 2000, 2006 and 2007 PGA champion. Fans gave him a few standing ovations. There was a “let’s appreciate what Tiger Woods has meant to us” vibe.

And it reminds me of when I went to the eye doctor a few weeks ago. The doctor said, “Congratulations. You have hit bottom.”

I said, “What do you mean?”

He said: “Your eyes have now lost 100 percent of their ability to focus. That’s it. You have zero percent capacity for focus now. This is what happens when you get to be our age.”

I looked at him (or tried to – I can’t focus) and asked why he offered congratulations.

“Well,” he said, “it can’t get any worse.”

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.


Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.



Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.



Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.



What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.