NEWS ANALYSIS

Critics lose perspective when it comes to Tiger

Tiger Woods is not only in poor form but also loses his footing in the rough during the US Open second round.
Tiger Woods is not only in poor form but also loses his footing in the rough during the US Open second round.PHOTO: AFP

Write about Tiger Woods and you know what is coming. People will ask why you insist on covering this man. When will he just retire?

Even his first coach, Butch Harmon, suggested that Woods' latest travails at the US Open were akin to going to Wimbledon and watching Roger Federer fail to get the ball over the net.

Amid all the voyeurism at the American's US Open shambles, the Federer analogy was pertinent.

Setback still recent

It may be seven years since the most recent of his 14 Majors but it is only two since he was the world No. 1 and helping himself to five triumphs on Tour.

Two years ago, the hitherto peerless Swiss slumped to seventh in the tennis world rankings and suffered an ignominious second-round defeat at Wimbledon by a man ranked No. 116.

People questioned Federer's age, the condition of his back and his desire so he was also condemned to the past. Then, he got better.

Now, he's the world No. 2 again.

It may not be so simple for Woods, who has fallen farther and harder.

Having started Friday at 10 over par, after his poor first day, he achieved the remarkable and got worse. A horrible approach to the 10th, his first hole, resulted in another bogey. To go with the plummet from his pedestal, he slipped and nearly fell off the steep slope.

He was one off last place, an all-time great at an all-time low. Yet, while it is easy to get a bit dewy-eyed over the sight of golf's Nureyev reduced to sad-dad dancing, there is hope.

It may be seven years since the most recent of his 14 Majors but it is only two since he was the world No. 1 and helping himself to five triumphs on the PGA Tour.

Since then, he has had back surgery and changed his swing coach. He was said to have the chipping yips before the Masters in April but recorded rounds of 68 and 69 anyway. Since then, rounds of 85 and 80 have provoked more obituaries.

Everyone has an opinion on Woods. His new coach, Chris Como, is too scientific with his masters in biomechanics; Woods, himself, is too much of a tinkerman, now on his sixth swing rebuild, according to Harmon; Paul McGinley, Europe's Ryder Cup guru, says he is in "disarray"; another former coach, Hank Haney, says he is "fixable".

Woods' slump has been more vivid, more visceral than the now-fixed Federer. He said as much when he turned up at the US Open and said: "Whether you get shelled or not, you have to stay out there."

"Short-term suffering for long-term gain," he said of his rebuild. "It's rough going through it and I've got to do it in front of the world."

After a first round that left him 15 strokes off the lead and in front of just two of the 156 starters, he made another telling comment.

"Knee surgeries are pretty easy compared with a back surgery," he said. "It's just a lot harder dealing with a nerve than a joint."

There is certainly a credible notion that we are watching a career in decline. However, when that career has been such a gilded one, it is easy to lose perspective.

Rickie Fowler was one of those players to be even worse than Woods on the opening day. The difference is the much vaunted Fowler has done little in his playing life as yet, so this will be written off as a bad two days before talk of unleashing his potential is resumed.

He is judged by future prospects; Woods is judged by his past and then, if needs be, hung by it.

stsports@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 21, 2015, with the headline 'Critics lose perspective when it comes to Tiger'. Print Edition | Subscribe