No longer the world’s best, can Tiger Woods still turn tiger?

Tiger Woods tees off in the 75th Masters. (AP photo)

Tiger Woods tees off in the 75th Masters. This shot went straight. Others didn't. (AP photo)

Augusta — At 10:41 a.m. on April 7, 2011, the green-jacketed starter said, “On the tee, Tiger Woods.” The assembled crowd applauded, and one man yelled “Tiger!” rather softly. (A soft yell? Welcome to Augusta National.) The man himself touched the bill of his white cap and then, looking neither right nor left but only dead ahead, sent a big drive down the first fairway.

For the first time since April 10, 1997, Tiger Woods had teed off in the Masters not being favored to win the thing.

That was the year of Tiger’s first Masters victory, and he arrived here ranked No. 1 in the world every time since. He began the 75th Masters ranked No. 1 no longer — he’s No. 7 — and his recent play has been awful by the standards he set and maintained for more than a decade. He hasn’t won a tournament since he wrecked his Escalade and his marriage the night after Thanksgiving 2009.

That said: He’s still Tiger Woods, winner of four Masters and 14 majors. Which means: Attention must be paid.

That said: Who exactly is Tiger Woods now?

He finished Thursday’s round 1-under. “I’m very pleased,” Woods said. “I’m right there in the ballgame. I’m only six back.” But to watch this Tiger Woods wasn’t to behold the irresistible force of Masters and majors past. He flubbed the par-5s, birdieing only one of the four. On the front nine he hit into two bunkers and found the trees once. And his putting was the kind that leads not to another jacket ceremony but to a 25th-place finish.

Woods: “I had a lot of birdie putts. Hopefully some of them will go in.”

Then: “Most of those putts looked like they should go in.”

The Tiger of yore was a metronome in the way he split fairways and sank putts. This Tiger Woods has the same mannerisms — the trademark pulling of his left sleeve as he moves to address the ball hasn’t changed — but differing results. He’s working with a new swing coach, and the ball is liable to go anywhere. To see him now isn’t to think, “This is the best player in the world,” but to ask: “Didn’t he used to be the best player in the world?”

There’s no physical reason Tiger cannot call back the years and win this tournament and a bunch more. He’s 35. Jack Nicklaus won four majors after his 35th birthday, and four more majors would bring Tiger even with Nicklaus at 18.  Let the record show that Phil Mickelson, who entered this Masters as the prohibitive favorite, is 40.

For Woods, age isn’t the barrier. At issue is whether he ever wants to work as hard at golf as he did in his youth. Even after an expensive divorce, he has more money than he could spend in 10 lifetimes. At what point does he say, “I’m OK with being the second-best ever;  time now to go do other things”?

That moment, it’s safe to say, hasn’t yet occurred. There was no wistfulness or whimsy in Thursday’s round. The man who was once the world’s greatest golfer tried his best to play great golf. It just didn’t happen. “I’d rather be where Rory is,” Woods said, speaking of co-leader Rory McIlroy, who shot a 65 at age 21. “But there’s a long way to go.”

Even Tiger at his most dominant never won a major on Thursday. The Woods of old would indeed be in good shape with 54 holes left, but there was little about Tiger on Thursday to indicate such a renaissance is at hand.  His 71 could have been 68 with better putting, but it might also have been a 73. It wasn’t a flawed work of genius; it was just another round by another guy struggling with his putter.

Afterward someone asked the famous workaholic if he’d head to the putting green for more work. No, Tiger Woods said, and then he smiled. “I was hitting my lines,” he said. “They just weren’t going in.”

By Mark Bradley

55 comments Add your comment

elin

April 7th, 2011
5:30 pm

Starring Kam Fong as Chin Ho

April 7th, 2011
5:52 pm

You don’t win The Masters on Thursday but you can lose it. Tiger didn’t lose it today so he can still win it on Sunday. I wouldn’t bet on it either way though.

Mike

April 7th, 2011
5:54 pm

Enough about Tiger already! Who cares? Talk about the guys who shot a good round of golf today!

130on2

April 7th, 2011
6:00 pm

elin – I doubt that you were first!!

Tech-nically Speaking

April 7th, 2011
6:08 pm

Sic transit gloria.

johnd

April 7th, 2011
6:13 pm

Who cares about other players. God, **** it. I will pay attention when they win 14th major okay. How stinks TW play right now, no one would do nothing but pay attention to him. We love to see that 18 major tore down. It is as simple as that.

johnd

April 7th, 2011
6:14 pm

Who cares about other players. God, **** it. I will pay attention when they win their 14th major okay. How stinky TW play right now, no one would do nothing but pay attention to him. We love to see that 18 major tore down. It is as simple as that.

Keary

April 7th, 2011
6:15 pm

Mark,
This isn’t related to golf, but I have a great link to an SI article about how Gonzalez is killing the Braves with his terrible lineups. I think it’s worth someone at the AJC writing about and maybe asking Gonzalez about. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/joe_sheehan/04/07/lineups/index.html?eref=sihp

PMC

April 7th, 2011
6:15 pm

yes, He’s 6 back.

He looks really sharp so far.

Mark Bradley`s Booster

April 7th, 2011
6:16 pm

Mark: Assume this is your last article about Tiger today.
Obviously your can write as many as you want but are there not other players in the field that warrant some of your attention? That said, I`m still your Booster…well most of the time.

PMC

April 7th, 2011
6:18 pm

He wasn’t that good prior to the whole scandal because he was still coming off the knee injury.

He didn’t look like a guy who “had lost it” to me today at all.

destin dawg

April 7th, 2011
6:23 pm

I have enjoyed not having to watch Tiger…. fist pumps.. arrogant attitude.. won’t sign auotgraphs for the kids… NO role model…. PLEASE QUIT the articles.. Unless he’s in contention… write about Matt Kuchar… he’s a Tech grad and a really good guy… write about Bubby Watson… UGA grad…….PLEASE

destin dawg

April 7th, 2011
6:24 pm

Sorry.. Bubba….

Laurade

April 7th, 2011
6:25 pm

Please stop putting emphasis on Tiger. Let’s concentrate on the folks who are doing well and who don’t have such a scandal in their background. He’s a disgrace to the sport of golf – it’s a gentleman’s game.

Laurade

April 7th, 2011
6:26 pm

Totally agree with Destin Dawg. Very well said.

SAWB

April 7th, 2011
6:45 pm

I too vote for NO MORE ARTICLES about Tigger! All you media guys are losing credibility! (some have lost all)

Bradleyisalwayswrong

April 7th, 2011
7:17 pm

Even your loyal “boosters” (as one of them called himself) realize that you really don’t know much about golf and, frankly, not a lot about other sports as well. Couple that with your less than exciting writing style and we have yet another ho-hum Bradley column. Lord, why am I still reading this drivel!

it is what it is

April 7th, 2011
7:27 pm

KUCHAR had a great day, where is his article?

crabapplejoe

April 7th, 2011
8:07 pm

A twenty-one year old kid is seven under and co-leader at the Masters and the AJC leads with “Tiger Woods is 1 under”….one of these days the AJC will understand why so many folks have cancelled their subscriptions and fewer and fewer are reading online……geeeez.

Joe

April 7th, 2011
8:15 pm

Tiger’s game doesn’t return until Tiger starts hanging out with strippers, porn stars, etc. again.

Wisemule

April 7th, 2011
9:10 pm

His name isn’t Tigger. It’s Tiger….
Tiger is still the greatest golfer a lot of you will ever see in your lifetime. 14 Major Championships, 72 Win Worldwide. When some of the other guys start winning on a consistant basis people will talk about them. It’s hard to talk about everybody else when one golfer has had a stranglehold on No.1 spot for the past 10 years.

Laurade

April 7th, 2011
9:16 pm

Right on, Crabapple, Joe and it is what it is! What is it with these folks? Probably the same ones who are fascinated with Charlie Sheen……….

[...] stunning. …Here's one golf record Tiger Woods might not be able to breakWashington PostNo longer the world's best, can Tiger Woods still turn tiger?Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Despite opening 71, Tiger Woods upbeat about dayLos Angeles [...]

StingerSplash

April 7th, 2011
9:35 pm

There may be no worse or empty explanation than Tiger’s peccadilloes coming to light and sidetracking his life and his golf game.
Please.
If that sham marriage meant anything to that fraud, he wouldn’t have been going through porn stars and trollops at a Charlie Sheen-like pace. His only embarrassment is that he was found out to be a phony.
Charles Pierce laid him out in the piece in Esquire more than a decade ago and what really has changed since then in his character?
And will a Dr. Galea shoe ever drop? There is no indication or evidence Tiger ever used PEDs but his bad doctor dabbled in dispensing them to others.

Dr. Phil

April 7th, 2011
9:44 pm

Tiger has played exception golf in the past, but he will never have the grace and character of Palmer and Nicklaus.

Laurade

April 7th, 2011
9:53 pm

Oh, Dr. Phil, you are SO right! It’s a gentleman’s game and he’s certainly not a gentleman………

Wisemule

April 7th, 2011
10:18 pm

Hey Stinger. Let’s start an investigation…..
Maybe we can throw Woods and half the other frauds out of the game, or is Woods the only one we should go after?
Let’s start with Woods. Let’s take all his Majors and Wins back since he’s a phony. We should have seen all the victories coming ten years ago, and got him out of the game. Tiger has been bad for golf. If it wasn’t for Tiger the rest of the frauds wouldn’t be making nowhere near the money. Stinger, what’s a Charlie Sheen-like pace? Is this the same Charlie Sheen that most find incoherent, a drug abuser and drunk?
Boy, I’m glad were’re all perfect,and nobody has to hear about the skeletons in our closets. Wouldn’t want that to get out. Then I couldn’t say and post some of the thing I do.

TheAntiMe

April 7th, 2011
10:34 pm

Cut Tiger some slack. It’s not his fault that human water hazard Charlie Sheen stole all of his tiger blood.

zoxh01

April 7th, 2011
10:43 pm

Dr. Phil, I hope Tiger never breaks Jack’s record.
If he does there goes all the grace and character.
If Tiger breaks the record half the people posting will probably committ suicide…Grace and character don’t get you to the Hall of Fame.
Personally, I think grace and character should be the criterior. If it were, the Hall would look a whole lot different.
Make no mistake. Tiger is playing to break the Majors record. It should make some of us feel better just knowing he doesn’t have to win the “other” tournaments — some of the “other” tournaments he’s won 4, 5 or 6 times. Can’t be much fun in that. At least not anymore….

zoxh01

April 7th, 2011
10:59 pm

Laurade, I can tell your last boyfriend wasn’t a gentleman.
You spew a lot of venom and hate.

SE GA Sports Fan

April 7th, 2011
11:23 pm

WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD YOU PUT TIGER’S SCORE AS YOUR LEAD IN TO YOU COLUMN????DO YOU REALLY THINK HE’S THE ONLY GOLFER OUT THERE???

Michael G.

April 8th, 2011
12:25 am

Dr. Phil….to say Arnold Palmer is a gracious or classy player is a stretch! He disgraced himself, Ken Venturi, and the game of golf by cheating in order to win the first of his green jackets. No Tiger is not a saint, but niether are the majority of guys on tour today and many of the golf ‘heroes’ from the past were no angels either. Tiger wasn’t the first, and won’t be the last. Look at two ‘classy’ guys, Fred Couples and Jim Nantz. Both have gotten divorced for cheating on their wives. it just doesnt get reported.

dbc

April 8th, 2011
12:49 am

What the F is “criterior’? The people with the loudest opinions are always the dumbest.

Delta Stewardess

April 8th, 2011
12:54 am

it is ONLY golf.

[...] 2011: Tiger Woods is pleased with his first roundWashington PostSan Francisco Chronicle -Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) -Christian Science Monitorall 7,853 news [...]

dawgdip

April 8th, 2011
5:21 am

To johnd everyone knows what you meant by “god ____.” The person you just cursed died for you.

4/8/2011 Blogs Update « TigerGone

April 8th, 2011
6:21 am

[...] No longer the world's best, can Tiger Woods still turn tiger … [...]

Insider

April 8th, 2011
6:58 am

Tiger will NEVER win again!

jim

April 8th, 2011
7:14 am

trash sells.

Bogeydawg

April 8th, 2011
7:33 am

Until Tiger finds something that motivates him, he will be the Tiger we see today. He no longer has his father, wife or mama cita waiting for him after he “wills” in another Masters. There’s nothing in his life now to produce that focus/adrenaline he needs to focus and get a win. It’s go to be a lonely place for him.

jim

April 8th, 2011
7:38 am

Matt Kuchar, CLASS ACT.

Starring Kam Fong as Chin Ho

April 8th, 2011
7:42 am

geno

April 8th, 2011
7:44 am

i never thought tiger was as great as people said he was….when tiger was winning all those tournaments the competition was weak/ and or getting old…..I give tiger two more majors….thats it.

big hoss

April 8th, 2011
7:46 am

I hope he never wins abother tyournament. he has been a disgrace to the game with his violent outbursts and cursing. You never see any of the other pros displaying this type behaviour. Those of us pulling against him should realize that his once magis with the putter has faded as it does with most players who mare trying too hard. Hope he doesn’t make the cut.

tiger woods = mark richt

April 8th, 2011
8:00 am

“i was hitting the lines on my putts but they weren’t going in.” sounds like “we had a great game plan but the players didn’t execute.” tiger could say the ball didn’t execute and he would sound just like st. mark. only difference is, tiger finished a couple of years ranked #1…..

Star Falcon

April 8th, 2011
8:07 am

Tiger is favored by me to win again this year. However a few others are capable of winning.

Cecil34

April 8th, 2011
8:35 am

First of all, a man divorcing his wife doesn’t mean it wasn’t justified. Until you walk a mile in a man’s shoes….

I’ll bet Elin knew what she was getting into beforehand. It was all about the big payday at the end of the “rainbow”.

And for you younger folks, there has always been cheatery going on in the PGA Tour – this didn’t just start with TW. Not justifying it, just stating a fact.

Now, for some reason, the media thinks it is everyone’s business.

I really would rather not know what goes on behind closed doors.

Pago Pago Dawg

April 8th, 2011
8:53 am

Come on people, you know tiger is the greatest golfer in the world!

Nate

April 8th, 2011
8:59 am

I love golf and I love watching golf, but I gotta’ tell you: Woods is just another player. Let it go.

Joey

April 8th, 2011
9:02 am

“Tiger is still the greatest golfer a lot of you will ever see in your lifetime. 14 Major Championships,…”
************************************************
I saw the greatest golfer in my lifetime before Tiger came along.

Jack Nicklaus – in majors – 18 wins, 19 second place finishes

Tiger Woods – in majors – 14 (and counting) wins, 5 second place finishes

Not even close, especially when you consider the the number of Hall of Fame, multi-major-win competitors Jack had to face.