The scandal the accident exposed, the tales of marital infidelity it shook loose, led to one staggering loss after another. The accident led to losses of treasures both tangible and intangible.
It will be remembered as the year the greatest winner of this generation was humbled by all he lost.
He lost his swing and his clutch putting stroke.
He lost millions of dollars in endorsements.
He lost the favor of much of sports fandom. His Sports Q Score as measured by the research firm Marketing Evaluations showed his fall from the top of its list of most “likable” athletes for the first time in a decade. Woods plummeted to 25th in the rankings.
Woods also lost his wife and his marriage in a divorce.
“I feel for him, I really do,” three-time PGA Tour winner Chris DiMarco said. “What he did, I’m disappointed. From a moral aspect, I feel disappointed. But for him to have to go through it like he’s going through it in the public eye, it’s tough. I don’t think anyone deserves that. He’s a great asset to the PGA Tour. He kept this train rolling for years and years. He’s made a lot of us a lot of money. There’s no doubt that when he’s at his best, he drives everything, ticket sales, TV network ratings, everything.”
Woods’ losses didn’t just change his life, they changed golf.
At his best, Woods left little room for the opposition to thrive.
His giant shadow darkened the careers of so many of his foes, stunting growth and choking possibilities.
Woods didn’t just beat his would-be rivals. He beat them down. He won majors by 15, 12 and eight shots. Where might Sergio Garcia be today if Woods wasn’t there blocking so many pathways to major championships? How many more majors might Ernie Els have won?
Nobody since Jack Nicklaus possessed a game as intimidating as Woods.
That’s changed, dramatically.
While Woods appears to have lost the confidence that made him so formidable, his competition’s gaining it.
We’ve heard it in the boldest terms the last few months.
“I would love to face Tiger,” Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy said in the weeks leading up to the Ryder Cup. “Unless his game rapidly improves, I think anyone in the European team would fancy his chances against him.”
While expecting Woods will come back and win more majors, PGA Tour veteran Scott Verplank followed up last week on the bravado he’s sensing from fellow tour pros.
“All I know is that the world’s a lot different than it used to be,” Verplank said. “As talented as Tiger is, I would suspect he’s going to find his golf game. But I think his shield of invincibility has been dissolved. I think it’s been dissolved some on the golf course, too. I don’t think guys are really all that worried about him.”
When Woods veered into his neighbor’s yard a year ago, he was No. 1 in the world with a ranking of 15.937 average points. Phil Mickelson was a distant second, almost seven points behind. The point differential between Woods and Mickelson back then was the same as between Mickelson and the 70th ranked player in the world.
What Woods lost, others are lining up to gain. The territory Woods once occupied is now open to the challenge of new dominions.
England’s Lee Westwood took over at No. 1 in the world rankings last month with Woods’ latest streak at the top ending after a record 281 consecutive weeks.
Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell (U.S. Open), South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen (British Open) and Germany’s Martin Kaymer (PGA Championship) won the last three majors of the year.
Without Woods carrying the banner for the PGA Tour, the European Tour is thriving on the verge of what could be its new golden era.
Westwood, McDowell, Oosthuizen and Kaymer all helped the European Tour raise its stature.
At the start of the 2008 season, just two Europeans ranked among the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Ireland’s Padraig Harrington and England’s Justin Rose. Today, six of the top 10 hail from Europe.
A new youth movement in Europe, Asia and the United States is poised to make its mark without Woods there to squash it.
Kaymer just won his major at 25, Oosthuizen at 27. American Dustin Johnson looks like he could join them before turning 26 next year. The popularity of 21-year-olds McIlroy and American Rickie Fowler is growing swiftly. Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa (19) and Italy’s Matteo Manassero (17) may find more room to be major factors with Woods failing to challenge.
Matt Kuchar enjoyed a career year and is a candidate to win PGA Tour Player of the Year despite winning just once this season.
Jim Furyk won three times this year and claimed the FedEx Cup and will be the PGA Tour’. Player of the Year if Kuchar isn’t.
There was so much more to be won this last year without Woods appearing to win everything, but it’s a year that will be remembered for what was lost. More than anything, it’s a year defined by what Woods lost.