Tiger won't end up completely off club property the way Ballesteros did when he decided to remake himself from one of the best feel players of all time into something else. Tiger's got too much talent and too much moxie and will win majors again, even if he never dominates like he did. Now, I don't see him week in and week out, and I'm no swing doctor. And I don't care whether he likes me or knows me by my first name or calls me on my birthday. But I'm right about this: Tiger Woods decided he was going to have a perfect golf swing to go with his perfect body, produced by his perfect workout sessions, before he went to the range with that perfect jerk who caddies for him.
Before going home to perfect Elin.
He wasn't just going to be long. He was going to create a flawless swing. Hit the ideal shot every time. Shape everything: driver, two-iron, everything. He wasn't just going to work as hard as Hogan, he was going to make them all swoon by being Hogan. Aim at the tree. Which branch?He was going to be Sinatra. They were all going to go nuts over his phrasing.
Only he was Elvis.
And as the old NBA star Paul Westphal always used to say, "Only one guy gets to be Elvis."
I'm not saying Tiger shouldn't try to improve. The true immortals, from all sports, are always looking for ways to improve. There was a year when Bjorn Borg showed up at Wimbledon with a slice backhand approach shot nobody had ever seen before. And we all sat at Centre Court and said, "Where did that come from?" They said Michael Jordan couldn't pass well enough, but guess what?He showed them. Magic Johnson's outside shot needed work, and one summer he went home and spent about four thousand hours shooting from wayyyyyy outside, and nobody could back off him, dare him to take the J, ever again.
Nobody was backing off Tiger. He was backing everybody off. No one could touch him. Everybody was afraid of him. He was going to be the favorite in every major he played for the next ten years.
Until he wasn't.
I still always expect him to hit some kind of hero shot that only he can hit. But he's not the same. He doesn't have the Babe Ruth swagger he used to have, and not just because he hasn't won a major for two years. No, I think he spent so much time under the hood of the car that he forgot how to drive the sucker.
I know, I know. The other guys caught up. Equipment and balls are more of a factor now. And there are people in golf who believe that Tiger's left knee isn't the same. Or they worry that the violent swings he has been taking at balls his whole life have done something to his back, no matter how many crunches he does.
But most of it—in my opinion— Tiger did to himself. He says that he changed his swing after he won that first Masters going away, and look at the results: seven more majors. So maybe he did. But whatever swing that was, he should have kept it. The way he should have kept Butch. Who had the ability to put a hand on his shoulder and say no.
He can talk about his cut record all he wants. He didn't set out to make cuts. He set out to win majors.
Remember when we were practically begging for Mickelson or Els or Singh or Garcia or even poor David Duval (back in the day) to become a real rival to Woods, a Trevino to his Nicklaus or a Snead to his Hogan?
Nobody knew at the time, or could have known, that Tiger's truest rival, his most dangerous opponent, would turn out to be himself.
That's why he lost his fastball.