It must be tough being Tiger Woods right now. Despite the enormous joy and relief he will have experienced at winning The Masters in April – his first major title in almost 11 years – all of a sudden the expectation levels have reached sky high again. Maybe not in Tiger Woods’ own mind, but certainly in the minds of many golf followers the world over.
At the height of his powers 10, 15 and 20 years ago, Tiger Woods would think nothing of reeling off two or three PGA Tour victories in a row, and all within the space of a few weeks. In April 2001 at Augusta National, he collected a fourth straight major title, a run of domination that also swept up the Players Championship as well.
In 1999, he won eight of his 21 PGA Tour starts; the following year nine out of 20; while collecting five trophies in each of the seasons over 2001, 2002, and 2003. There were 21 more titles accumulated between January 2005 and September 2007. Even in 2008, when injury forced him to take a long break after winning the US Open at Torrey Pines, there were four successes from just six tournaments between January and mid-June of that year.
Best of the best
To sum up one decade of Tiger Woods' achievements, between August 15th, 1999 and August 9th, 2009, he won 67 times on the PGA Tour alone. These numbers are mind-boggling, but unfortunately many still believe he can pick up from where he left off all those years ago and challenge today’s young guns, week in, week out. But it isn't going to happen, and the one person who knows that better than anyone else is Tiger himself.
Years of striving to play perfect golf put a tremendous amount of strain on his athletic body and swing. Back and leg surgery has considerably restricted his movement, and he is no longer one of the longest drivers on tour. Around the turn of the Millennium, the only golfer who was regularly ahead of Tiger Woods in the driving distance stats was Long John Daly. Nowadays, he rarely registers in the top 50, although he's still very much in the top half of this list.
For Tiger Woods, it’s currently all about managing his physical limitations. He has to carefully select where and when to play, understand his strengths and weaknesses, and make the most of his talents for whatever time he has left at the top-end of world golf. His slightly unexpected, but well-received, victory at Augusta National shows he can still mix it with the big boys – but certainly not every week as he could in the past.
Don't read too much into PGA missed cut
As for his disappointment at the PGA Championship last month, it’s not something we should dwell on for too long. It was his first outing since winning The Masters and should not be viewed as the return of the bad old days when he missed four major cuts in five starts during 2014-15.
The emotion and strain of winning a fifth Green Jacket were probably still very much in his system when the season's second major championship came along, and when he arrived at Bethpage State Park he was immediately thrust back in the TV and media spotlight once again.
In many ways, it would have been a bigger shock had he played his way into contention at the PGA Championship. Let the facts speak for themselves. He only missed the cut by a single shot, thanks largely to a bad start to the back nine of his second round. After 36 holes he was only two shots behind Rory McIlroy, who squeezed into the weekend and went on to post a top-10 finish. While Tiger Woods went home, Rory hung around and played well on Saturday and Sunday. Such are the fine lines between contending and being run of the mill.
Pressure lifted from Tiger's shoulders
Going into the US Open, it may help Tiger Woods that he performed below par at the PGA. This may take some of the pressure off, remove some of the unnecessary, unwanted expectations from the media and golf fans alike and allow him to concentrate on his game.
Since walking away from Long Island on a Friday evening in mid-May, he has teed-up again to finish tied-9th at the Memorial Tournament in Ohio – one of the most prestigious events outside of the majors. At Muirfield Village, where the field is usually strong, Tiger Woods closed with a 67 to finish one shot behind a resurgent Jordan Spieth, who will arrive at the US Open with high hopes.
As for which Tiger Woods we'll see at the US Open, it's difficult to know exactly, but the bookies are certainly preparing for another Tiger Woods splash. He is currently the fourth favorite with many bookmakers, behind only Dustin Johnson (+700), McIlroy (+800) and major king Brooks Koepka (+900). Tiger Woods (+1100) is more highly regarded than Patrick Cantlay (1600) and Spieth (+2000), the next two most fancied players in the list.
As for the venue, Pebble Beach is where Tiger Woods began his amazing run of four straight major successes in June 2000, when he triumphed by a record margin of 15 strokes. It is also a rugged coastal location where weather conditions change quickly. Experience of such conditions will be vital, but if the weather deteriorates, it may affect Tiger Woods more than most.
One thing is certain however, if he can find some momentum early on, he must certainly be taken seriously. But remember, Tiger 2019 is very different to Tiger 2000/01 or even Tiger 2006/07. He understands that, and it’s time for everyone else to do the same.