Is Tiger Set To Roar In 2016?
Elite-level sport is undoubtedly a young manís game. Before this writer gets lynched by a (slow moving) mob of senior citizens, take a look at the stats: only one winner of FIFAís prestigious Ballon díOr has been aged over 30 in the last decade, whilst 34-year-old Roger Federer is still searching for his first Grand Slam win in seven years. Even the average age of the top test batsmen in the world according to the ICC, where experience is considered a huge plus, is skewed by the presence of Steve Smith (26), Joe Root (24) and Kane Williamson (25).
Youíd be forgiven for thinking that age is less of a factor in golf; it is a physically demanding sport, sure, but only short bursts of dynamism are required Ė and these are usually closely followed by a gentle stroll through lovely surroundings.
Since the first major was held in 1860, only 8% of winners have been aged 40 or over at the time they lifted the trophy. In the last decade, only two major champions (5%) have been in their senior years Ė Darren Clarke Ė was 42 when he won The Open as a 100/1 outsider in 2011, and Phil Mickelson likewise when he triumphed at Muirfield in 2013. Jack Nicklaus won only three of his 18 big ones at this age.
Life begins at 40? Not on the golf course it doesnít.
And thatís the bad news for Tiger Woods, who reaches the milestone age in December, as he looks to find his way back to the top of the sport he has largely dominated for the best part of two decades.
As Mickelson and Vijay Singh have proved, turning 40 is no obstacle to performing well at the highest level. However, losing form and advancing in years is not a recipe for success.
Tiger Loses His Stripes
Itís fair to say that 2015 was the nadir of Woodís career. He failed to make inroads into any of the big tournaments, and this season represented the first time in his 20 years on tour that he failed to make the cut at consecutive majors. His world ranking has slumped to 321 accordingly, and he even suffered the ultimate indignity of being replaced as the cover star of his own computer games franchise by Rory McIlroy.
This is the worst period in Tigerís career Ė even worse than when his extra-marital infidelities were rather publically played out back in 2010. It is hard to see how he can recover from here.
And yet his campaign had started brightly. A top 20 finish at the Masters in April suggested that he was on his way back to some semblance of form Ė particularly his middle two rounds of 68 and 69 Ė but ultimately this proved to be a false dawn. He failed to finish in the top 20 again until August at the Quicken Loans event, and this was bookended by hideous showings at the other three majors.
And yet....his final event of the season, the Wyndham Championship, saw Tiger finish 10th; just four shots off leader Davis Love III. But for a final round of 70, who knows where he would have finished.
So perhaps Tiger isnít out of the Woods yet, although his recovery from a second bout of back surgery in September will largely determine the part he plays on tour next year.
Itís Been A While
As any golf historian knows, it is now seven years since Tiger won a major Ė the US Open at Torrey Pines, and yet it was only as recently as 2013 that he enjoyed a reasonably stellar year by anybodyís standards. He picked up his last tour win then, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, and all in all lifted five winnerís trophies; taking him three adrift of Sam Sneadís all-time record of 82.
Thereís no doubting that Tiger has his sights firmly on Nicklausís record of 18 majors - heís still four behind, and he will be hoping that the operation on his back enables him to compete more consistently across four rounds, rather than a sparkling 18 holes here and there.
Even by his 2015 stats you can see that there are attributes to be applauded in his game. An average drive distance of 300.2 yards shows he can still give it a good bash off the tee, although a driving accuracy figure of 55% is symptomatic of his problems. By way of comparison, Jordan Spiethís average drive distance is 291.8 yards, and yet his accuracy off the tee is at 63%. By such small margins are champions made. If Tiger could add a bit of finesse and precision with his driver then his game will improve instantly.
A PGA Tour scoring average in 2015 of 71.93 is not hideous but wonít win trophies, and his short game stats are way down on where they should be, and this was an area of particular strength for Woods in his heyday.
There is no simple answer or quick fix to Tigerís current problems, and it is simply a case of him needing to play better - and you donít need a sports psychologist to tell you that. But as his run in 2013 shows, there is life in the old dog yet.