Tour Insider: Players say Woods' aura not as strong
March 26, 2014
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
- Tiger Woods is battling a back injury but is hoping to be able to compete at the Masters. (Smith/Getty Images)
While Tiger Woods was laid up last week nursing a bad back, Matt Every was busy slipping on a blue blazer at Bay Hill -- Woods’ personal playground through the years.
Earlier this year, it was Scott Stallings hoisting the trophy at Torrey Pines. Woods, who has won there eight times including a U.S. Open on a broken leg, was already home after having missed the 54-hole cut.
Ditto at PGA National, just down the road from Woods' home in Jupiter, Fla., with Russell Henley winning while Woods was on the couch after back spasms forced him to withdraw from the final round.
A week later at Trump National Doral, a place where Woods has won four times, the No. 1 player in the world struggled to finish on Sunday en route to the worst final-round score (78) of his career. Twenty-three-year-old Patrick Reed went on to win for the third time in the last seven months.
What does it all mean for Woods, and the rest of golf?
“Well, it is different, for sure,” said Adam Scott.
He should know.
In 2000, Woods was on his way to Pebble Beach for the U.S. Open when he stopped in Las Vegas to see then-coach Butch Harmon, who was also working with a 19-year-old Australian who was about to turn pro. Playing in 25-mph winds, Woods broke the course record and Scott contemplated his future.
“It was clear he was doing things other players couldn’t (physically) do,” Scott said. “That was his 15th club in his bag back then. Now everyone hits it 300 (yards).”
At the time, Woods was more than double the world ranking points ahead of the No. 2 position. Last week at Bay Hill, Scott had a chance to eclipse Woods with a win.
That he didn’t isn’t really the point. That he even had the opportunity speaks volumes not just about how far Scott has come but the rest of the field, too.
“He’s lost that sort of force field of invincibility around him,” Graeme McDowell told a group of reporters at Bay Hill. “The aura is not as strong. He's still Tiger Woods, still the greatest player ever in my opinion.
“I don't remember the first time I played with him but there was a real ‘wow’ factor. He was playing a different sport than me. But guys get older, stuff happens.”
Woods is 38 years old and even though he won five times last year and was named PGA TOUR Player of the Year his body and his game have paid a price.
Multiple surgeries. Four different swings. Personal strife. A suddenly balky back. All of it has opened the door for others, and they don’t have the scar tissue that some of Woods’ contemporaries have (see: Els, Ernie, who in 2000 finished runner-up in three of the year’s four majors, two of them to Woods).
Billy Horschel remembers his first encounter with Woods. It was at the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
Horschel had qualified as an amateur and wasn’t shy about introducing himself to Woods when the two crossed paths in the parking lot. They encountered each other a couple of more times that week and Horschel finally joked to Woods to stop following him.
“Guys who played with him made it easy for him,” Horschel says. “Tiger wasn’t doing anything special; he was just making pars and guys felt like they had to do something special to beat him. I think guys get intimidated by him because maybe a lack of belief in themselves.”
Woods' play of course had a lot to do with that.
"(Younger players) are not out there believing he is unbeatable because the positive press that happened for 10 years has been replaced with some negativity," McDowell said. "And there are so many great young players now, it’s not just (a player here or there). There are 10s and 20s of these guys. There's a belief level now that you can be 19, 20, 21 (years old) and capable of doing it at the biggest level.”
Much of that has to do with the success of Woods, a player who was idolized by Horschel, 27, and others of the current crop of 20-somethings on TOUR.
The same feelings didn't resonate a decade or more ago.
“He had everything working in his favor to put you a couple shots behind when you're teeing off,” Scott said of Woods’ dominance back then. “Whether it was the way he was talking in the media that week, it was the presence around him. It was all well-publicized and well-known exactly what he was up to and how good he was and how good he is. I think it definitely played a part in it. It was -- and it's a fact, he's hard to beat if he's up there.
"The record speaks for itself. For the better part of 10 years No. 1 was kind of off the radar.”