Scott MichauxSports columnist for The Augusta Chronicle. |

Tiger Woods is a victim of his own high standards

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It is the single most common question I’ve ever been asked – will Tiger Woods ever be “back?”

Tiger Woods took third at Abu Dhabi last week but the respectable finish was still described as a failure by many media members.  FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Tiger Woods took third at Abu Dhabi last week but the respectable finish was still described as a failure by many media members.

My answer is always the same – it depends on what your definition of “back” is.

Back to winning 71 PGA Tour events and 14 majors in the next 13 years the way he did in his first 13 years? No.

Back to being the best golfer in the world? Well, I’d argue he’s already done that. In fact, he never really went away.

Woods finished third in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, and it has been almost universally classified as a failure, which says more about the critics than the subject.

Woods shared the 54-hole lead with England’s Robert Rock, a quality yet unheralded pro who went on to earn his second career victory. Since Woods didn’t close the deal like he did 55 of the previous 63 times he held at least a share of the lead going into the final round, his “comeback” apparently reboots again.

“The reports of Tiger Woods’s resurrection are greatly exaggerated,” wrote The Independent of London. “His aura remains buried in the past and many of us believe (Sunday’s) latest shortfall, in Abu Dhabi, will only make his return to predominance that much more demanding.”

This illustrates just how unfairly Woods – who said he was “a touch off” – is being judged. The only yardstick he’s ever measured by is the one that was created solely for him during the peak of his supremacy. It is an utterly absurd standard to which no other golfer in history (and that includes Jack Nicklaus) can measure up to.

Did the UK papers declare Rory McIlroy’s second-place finish a failure? How about the efforts of Nos. 1 and 3 Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, who never factored?

Nope, only Woods gets the anything-less-than-victory-is-a-failure treatment. Of course, that is the way he’s always judged himself, so the golf media is just following his self-established protocol.

But in the past two years as he’s struggled with personal hardship, injuries and another swing overhaul, the established rating system is horribly unfair.

In the last year, Woods finished only 11 full-field events, posting three top-fours including last year’s Masters Tournament. He missed just one cut in that span (PGA) and finished outside of the top 30 just three other times.

Starting with the 2010 Masters, he’s completed only 24 official tournaments since his return from the scandal that rocked his career. In those 24 events, he’s finished 13 times among the top 20, including three fourth-place finishes in majors.

If these were the results of any other golfer, they probably would be considered pretty impressive. The raw numbers minus all the preconceived notions would support that assessment.

If you divided Woods’ world ranking points earned post-scandal by the actual number of events he’s competed in (as is the case for every single other player in the top 80 in the world), Woods would rank No. 6 in the world instead of 17th. Take away the two Players Championships he withdrew from because of injury, and he’d be No. 5 and the highest ranked American.

That’s how good Woods is even at his very worst.

The difference between this Woods and the one who dominated for more than a decade is on the putting green. In that regard, he’s a little more like everyone else. He no longer seems to will every crucial putt inside of 15 feet into the hole, breaking the back of opponents and saving that extra stroke or two that is the difference between winning and finishing fourth.

But what Woods showed last week on a strange desert course and at the end of last year in Australia as well as winning his own elite 18-player event at Sherwood is that he still has all the shots needed to beat everyone else. He might not do it as consistently often as he used to, but he’s still more consistently in the hunt than all the other perceived “greats.”

What gets attacked most often about this version of Tiger is his lost “aura,” and certainly he seems more scared of himself and his confidence to close these days than anyone else.

Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell was a little dismissive of Woods’ famous Sunday prop.

“Tiger’s red shirt does not intimidate anyone anymore. What it means to him is obviously different than what it means to us,” McDowell said last week.

Frankly, Tiger’s aura was already overrated and it really hasn’t changed. If you don’t believe he’s still not the first name every other player in the field notices on the leaderboard, I’ve got some golf course real estate you might be gullible enough to invest in.

Woods’ “aura” didn’t win those 14 majors, his talent did. Any players who wilted under the pressure likely would have wilted regardless of who they were chasing. His “aura” didn’t scare off the likes of Bob May or Rich Beem or Chris DiMarco or Michael Campbell or Zach Johnson or a bunch of guys who were considered inferior yet challenged him to the limit, sometimes winning against Woods at his absolute best. Did his aura only scare the supposed “greats?”

No, Woods was just better. In fact, there’s not a player right now who could be classified as “better.” Others have had better results over the past two years while Woods has been regaining his footing, but there isn’t anyone that has replaced the void of dominance that he left vacant.

Woods will certainly have more high-end challengers now. He has more self-doubts in some areas of his game than before. He has structural health issues to contend with that don’t typically get better with age.

However, when he resumes winning – and he will soon, possibly even at the Masters – it will likely be at a rate more in line with other top-tier players. Whether he can win enough to catch and surpass Nicklaus’ 18 majors is debatable and less realistic than it seemed to be in 2008.

But whether he’s “back” is just a matter of perception or semantics. Except for a few lapses inflicted by injury or moral missteps, Woods has never actually been gone.

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sysherman 01/31/12 - 11:11 pm
This was the most refreshing

This was the most refreshing and enlightened assessment of Tiger Woods I have heard in over two years. My congratulations

itsanotherday1 01/31/12 - 11:56 pm
Tiger has always attracted

Tiger has always attracted too much press. Great? Durn tootin he is; one of the best ever. However, I feel the exposure is overdone because he is a minority. I still love to watch him play, I just don't like the syrupy press when the headlines are not about the leader, but how Tiger is doing.

avidreader 02/01/12 - 06:09 am
I normally do not give a

I normally do not give a rat's behind about Tiger news, but this article is a "refreshing" (sysherman) look at a man who, at one time, captured the hearts of the golf world. Good job, SM.

seenitB4 02/01/12 - 07:19 am
He just doesn't want it like

He just doesn't want it like he used to.....can you blame him....been there -done that....
He will always be one of the greatest golfers of all time.

etlinks 02/01/12 - 08:45 am
I was proud of the way Tiger

I was proud of the way Tiger handled his remarks on the course and after his round on Sunday. The other guys on tour should be very aware of this man who is out to make a large statement that I am back in control. That was a very strong field at Abu Dhabi.

jgingeri 02/01/12 - 06:45 pm
Thank you! I have been making

Thank you! I have been making a virtually identical argument to the one you present here. If you objectively look at what he has done, during the worst period of his career and life, it can give you a hint about the future. If he has finished top 5(actually top 4), in 50% of his majors since the scandal, imagine what he can do in the next few years with health, peace of mind, and swing changes finally coming to form... And I'd add the quick point, sure golfers aren't "scared of Tiger" when they play with him. But people, please, use your brain. When players are paired up with Tiger, they play in front of the largest gallery of their life! Rory McIlroy said this past Saturday that he thought Tiger would take the large gallery with him on Sunday and that maybe Rory could just relax and quietly play his game. Player's simply aren't used to playing with the kind of crowd noise, cameras, and overall buzz that follows Tiger on the course. If you don't believe me, just take Rory McIlroy's own words from a mere 4 days ago.

wildcat 02/01/12 - 09:41 pm
I enjoyed reading this

I enjoyed reading this article the best yet, THANK YOU he is the greatest.

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