The last time Tiger Woods won a major championship, George W. Bush was president.
That feels impossible, but it’s true. Barack Obama wasn’t elected until five months after the last of Woods’ 14 major championships, which came on one leg in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Surgery for a torn ACL after that win ended his season. And although he returned in 2009 and won six times, none of those came in the tournaments that matter most to Woods.
His run of closing out all 14 of his majors in which he took a lead into the final round ended in the 2009 PGA Championship, when unheralded Y.E. Yang dented the Tiger mystique by coming from behind to win.
But that paled in comparison to the damage done to Woods’ legacy on the Friday after Thanksgiving later that year. With his wife having discovered his serial infidelity, Woods fled his Florida mansion and crashed his Cadillac Escalade into a fire hydrant and some trees.
Just like that, the image he had spent his entire life crafting was gone. Woods’ scandal dominated headlines and turned him into a national punch line on late-night TV.
The following year, he failed to win an event on the PGA Tour for the first time in his career. By October 2010, his DiMaggio-like streak of 281 consecutive weeks atop the World Golf Ranking, which began in June 2005, was put to an end by Lee Westwood.
Woods, however, bounced back and eventually regained the No. 1 ranking in March 2013 with his eighth victory at the Bay Hill Championship, tied for the most by any player in a PGA Tour event. Woods won five times that year, earning his 11th PGA Tour Player of the Year award.
Injuries, however, eventually caught up. Throughout his career, Woods has dealt with injuries to his left knee, both Achilles, neck, elbow and most recently, and problematically, his back.
He had his first microdisectomy surgery in March 2014, then underwent a second procedure last September. The following month, a follow-up procedure was required to “relieve discomfort.”
Woods’ physical condition has been the subject of rumors since that time. He posted a video of himself gingerly hitting a 9-iron on a simulator in February as a way to respond to reports that he had to ride in cars with the seat fully reclined.
Woods’ agent called that report “ridiculous and absolutely false.”
As for when he will make his return, however, there is still no definitive timetable.
In the last two-plus seasons, he’s played in 18 tournaments with just one top-10 finish, six cuts and three withdrawals. He has plummeted to 472nd in the World Golf Ranking.
Still, he remains the biggest name in golf. The Buffalo News conducted a panel with four of the area’s golf leaders and asked them three questions about Woods. The panel consisted of:
• Billy Hanes, 2015 Buffalo District Golf Association points champion
• Liam Friedman, head professional, Fox Valley Country Club
• Chris Kulinski, head professional, Orchard Park Country Club
• Marlene Davis, LPGA teaching professional, Paddock Chevrolet Golf Dome
Question: Should Tiger Woods return to full health, could he win another major championship?
Friedman: “If he’s healthy, for sure. People still talk about him, and he hasn’t played golf in months. His skill set that he has, all-around physical attributes, mental attributes and this aura about him, he’ll certainly contend again. Keeping in mind that he stays healthy.”
Kulinski: “Even if he does get healthy ... I don’t know. Mentally, he used to be so much better than he probably can ever be again. Everything that’s gone on in his life, I think has put a really big blemish on him. Mentally, he’s not nearly as good as he used to be. That’s such a big part of golf that I don’t know if he can ever win again. He might be great physically, but guys are also so much better now, so I don’t think so.”
Hanes: “Yeah, I think he can. I mean he was doing that only a couple years ago. I still think he can do it if he’s physically back to normal, but I don’t know if that’ll ever be the case. I don’t know if it was ... steroids, the working out, maybe both. But I think he could compete again. He’s only 40.”
Davis: “With what he’s gone through with the back surgeries and the knee surgeries, he’s never going to get back to 100 percent, where he was before those. Mentally, that plays a part because he’s scarred, you know? It’s definitely going to be an uphill climb, both physically and mentally, but I do think it’s possible. He could get back there. I do think he could win another major, but he’d have to get into that right spot where he trusts his physical abilities.”
Question: If you were part of Woods’ “inner circle,” what would be your advice for him?
Friedman: “I think he’s doing things the right way right now. Not rushing back and making sure that he’s healthy. He seems to be living his life more happily in terms of being a father and just enjoying himself. It seems like that should take pressure off his golf game.
“When he was playing those last few years, not winning, it seems like he put more and more pressure on himself to be 2000 Tiger Woods. Well, he’s not. He’s turned 40. He’s still Tiger Woods and he can still play.”
Kulinski: “I would tell him to try to get that killer instinct back. When he was at his prime, people were scared to play against him and with him. They knew he was that guy. Once you lose that, like he has, nobody’s scared of him anymore. Nobody’s thinking, ‘Tiger’s in the lead, I’ve got to play for second.’ My other advice would be work on that putting. He was unbelievable from 15 feet and in. That’s where he has to get his game back. That’s between the ears. Anybody can do it, so I would say focus on your putting once you get healthy.”
Hanes: “To absolutely not come back unless you’re really 100 percent physically and mentally healthy. I think a lot of it was mental in the beginning, before the injuries started piling up, with his divorce and all that drama. ... Tiger can’t go at it halfway. I’m sure he was practicing a crazy amount and wearing down his body when it wasn’t totally ready to be beat up like that. I’m sure that was why he kept getting hurt.”
Davis: “He knows how he’s done it before. It’s about trusting his own ability again. He was the greatest golfer in the world, and it’s about getting back to what got him there.”
Question: What is Tiger Woods’ legacy?
Friedman: “It’s pretty well written now in terms of the growth of the game, building purses on the PGA tour, getting sponsorships. Everybody wanted to be like Tiger – wanted to see Tiger play. You talk to all the young guns on Tour now, the Jordan Spieths and the Rory McIlroys and guys like that, that’s what they’ll say. ‘We loved Tiger, idolized Tiger.’ Just as Jack Nicklaus did − he won the Masters at age 46 − Tiger’s going to do something that people just shake their heads at, like, ‘Wow, he’s still Tiger.’
Kulinski: “I don’t think it’s been written yet. I think he’s doing a lot of interesting stuff designing courses now. That Blue Jack National, a replica of Augusta down in Texas, he’s starting to get his feet wet in that. I think he’s going to do a lot more of that in the future.
“He’s the greatest golfer of my generation. I’m 33. I didn’t see Jack play, I didn’t ‘t see Arnie play, I didn’t see any of those guys play. So he is what got me involved in golf. He’s also made the PGA Tour what it is today. Without Tiger Woods, those guys aren’t playing for the purses that they’re playing for.”
Hanes: “I hope it’s not totally written yet. No matter what happens off the course with him, I find myself rooting for him. His legacy is the most dominant golfer of all time for that stretch of 10 or 15 years. It’s hard to say what it will be, because I don’t think it’s over yet.”
Davis: A phenom. Just look at what he accomplished. People would show up every week to watch to see what Tiger was going to do. It’s definitely changed the game, that he’s not there any more. It was almost magical, some of the things that he brought to the game
“Unfortunately with all that occurred, when you talk about the social part of that, there are things that he’s not proud of and maybe ashamed of. It definitely changes his image. People aren’t rooting for him like they used to. You have anti-Tiger fans. I do believe it’s played a part in his legacy.”