While we in Montana are still waiting for spring, the season of new beginnings has definitely sprung in other parts of the country. One classic American spring tradition that marks the unofficial start of spring begins today in Augusta, Ga. at the Masters Tournament where the beautiful magnolias and azaleas are in full bloom. Ninety-seven of the world’s best golfers will gather to compete for a green jacket that signifies entrance into an exclusive and elite club. A tournament of many traditions, the Masters is unique among the four majors in that former champions are invited to compete for the rest of their life. Some former champions, such as four-time winner Arnold Palmer and six-time winner Jack Nicklaus choose not to compete due to advanced age. But one four-time champion in the middle of his career will sit out this weekend; it is of course the great and polarizing Tiger Woods, who is currently ranked No. 1 .
With the withdrawal, Woods will miss the Masters for the first time in his professional career and guarantees his streak of no wins in majors extends to 23. For perspective, he has had two “slumps” of 10 consecutive majors without a win, with both of them occurring relatively early in his career. Once upon a time you would’ve been considered crazy to think that in 2014 the golf phenom would be searching for his first major win since his U.S. Open victory in 2008 at Torrey Pines.
Woods’ reason for withdrawal this time around is certainly more than legitimate, as he recently went through surgery to remove a herniated disc in his spinal cord. However, his absence is yet another reminder that he is not the dominant player he once was, at least when it comes to majors. Stuck at 14 major titles, he is tantalizingly close to Nicklaus’ record of 18 titles, but at 38 years old, the clock is ticking on Tiger.
Herein lays the tragedy of Tiger Woods. Most tragic of all is how his self-admitted hubris and entitlement led to the collapse of his personal life. His relationship with his once adoring public and more importantly his family and friends will forever be marred by the embarrassing public scandal that took place off the golf course. I’d imagine there are plenty of moments Tiger would love to take back that he will have to live with the rest of his life. Even though there are numerous examples of athletes with public personal lives that go awry, unfortunately for Tiger, he plays the one sport where mental sharpness and confidence are not just important, but vital if a player is to be even moderately successful. Woods already has an amazing resume with 79 PGA Tour wins, the 14 majors and a long list of other achievements. He isn’t even playing horribly as of late, as he is still ranked No. 1 (albeit that will be threatened this weekend) and is coming off a season with five wins, which is considered a phenomenal year for most. But he has yet to break through in a major again, and it is obvious that this prolonged and once-unthinkable slump is directly related to a lack of confidence he used to possess in the big moments.
The hardest major Tiger will ever have to get will be 15, and he may never get it. It is hard to say if he’ll ever catch Nicklaus much less surpass him, when that seemed like a forgone conclusion in 2008. Even if he does reach 18 or 19, he will forever be remembered as the great one who might have been greater if he could have kept his life from falling apart off the course and lost his confidence edge. Just like the magnolias and azaleas have their time before they wither away, Woods is now racing against father time. With the U.S. Open in June potentially representing No. 24 in the streak, it begs the question: how many opportunities does Tiger have left?