Tiger Woods is a middle of the pack hack.
That’s what ESPN golf analyst Paul Azinger called him during coverage of the first round of the British Open. The actual quote was, “It’s hard to watch the greatest player of this generation be a middle of the pack hack.”
Azinger may have been trying to be nice by saying that it’s hard to watch, but he probably wasn’t speaking for most of the people who play, cover and follow professional golf.
As I write this, Woods was trying to finish his second round and on the way to missing the cut. He was 21 over par for his last 45 holes in a major tournament.
It’s dangerous to write off a once in a generation player in any sport because their otherworldliness could very well mean that they have the ability to overcome the odds and be great again.
But Tiger’s game needs drastic improvement to reach mediocrity. He’s really been bad for a while. Going into the British Open he was ranked 241st in the world and was averaging 73 strokes per round.
That’ll get you a 1 or 2 handicap at your local country club, but it won’t get you enough prize money on the PGA tour to pay your expenses.
Talk to guys who have covered Tiger Woods over the years and you will find that many, if not most, don’t find it hard at all to see him becoming a hack.
Woods was never a very popular guy on tour. Not with his fellow golfers or the media who covered him.
A Hall of Fame golf writer, who has been covering the PGA since the early days of Arnold Palmer, told me two years ago that most of the players on the tour felt that Woods’ decline couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy.
And, regardless of what the golf media say publicly, as much as they appreciate what Woods has done and could still do for the sport, it’s safe to assume that they don’t find Woods’ fall hard to watch at all.
Woods was always fun to watch even it never looked like he was having fun playing. Jordan Speith, who’s trying to win his third straight major tournament this weekend, has already smiled more in post-round interviews than Tiger has smiled in his entire career.
Woods will always be mentioned in the same breath as Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, Watson and Hogan, but he stands alone as the guy who, while he was the face of golf, would throw his clubs and drop F-bombs on the course.
Tom Watson played his last 18 holes at the British Open on Friday and got the proper sendoff from the crowd as he crossed the famed Swilican Bridge at St. Andrews.
With the way Woods’ career is going now and with his lack of friends in the golf world, it’s hard to imagine him having a moment like that 25 years from now.
Jack Nicklaus, who is back to being the indisputable best player in history, is also universally regarded as one of the nicest, classiest, most gracious players ever.
In any sport.
At his age, he probably appreciates that more than his accomplishments on the course.
There are, no doubt, still millions of golf fans out there who would like to see Tiger Woods become Tiger Woods again for no other reason than their appreciation for greatness.
Woods has sunk so low that even the media, who were turned off long ago by his lack of cooperation and surliness, would be fine with a miraculous return to his old self because it would be a great story to cover.
But you know who would really like to see Tiger come roaring back to the top of the golf world?
How would you like to have $50 or $60 million in endorsements riding on him for the next several years?
Pittsburgh ex-TV sportscaster, columnist and talk show host John Steigerwald is the author of the Pittsburgh sports memoir, “Just Watch The Game.” Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast at pittsburghpodcastnetwork.com