Tiger Woods can get his career back, if he gets his head straight

Tiger Woods is taking steps to rebuild his personal life but is failing to do so for his career; he did not even qualify for Quail Hollow. (credit: Maria Raffaele/Art Editor and Frances Soong/Art Staff ) Tiger Woods is taking steps to rebuild his personal life but is failing to do so for his career; he did not even qualify for Quail Hollow. (credit: Maria Raffaele/Art Editor and Frances Soong/Art Staff )

As the 2010 PGA Tour season reaches its conclusion, the news headlines do not center around the four different winners of the four major tournaments, or the upcoming Ryder Cup event. Instead, the reporters are still focused on a golfer who has not even won a tournament this year. He’s also currently the No. 1 golfer on tour. He also had a sex scandal. Yes, it’s Tiger Woods.

In November, Woods was involved in a low-speed car crash near his Florida home. As more details came out about that accident, Woods’ private life spiraled out of control. Every day, another mistress came out and spoke to the media as Woods lost fans, sponsors, and soon his wife, Elin Nordegren. The consensus from the sports media was that if Woods continued to play like Woods, people would forget about his past transgressions and learn to forgive him. After all, it worked for many athletes, such as the Dallas Cowboys’ Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin with his arrests for cocaine possession in 1993 and the Los Angeles Lakers’ guard Kobe Bryant with his rape allegations in Colorado in 2004. In both cases, the athletes performed on the field, and their off-the-field problems were rarely mentioned.

It seems like an easy task for a determined and stone-cold competitor like Woods. In fact, he has dominated the courses of the Masters, the U.S. Open, and the British Open. However, Woods has not been playing like himself and has been a non-factor during this season.

Other golfers, those who crumbled under the cold stares of Woods and the circus of fans who followed him hole-to-hole, are no longer intimidated by the world’s No. 1. He fired his swing coach and changed putters before the British Open. Both changes yielded no tournament victories, and he is only a tournament away from losing his No. 1 ranking to Phil Mickelson. Did we just experience the end of Woods’ reign over the golf world?

If Woods’ golf game continues to decline, the story will be bigger than Woods himself. The question about Woods’ career was: When will he break Jack Nichlaus’ record of 19 major victories? Now the question is: Will he even get close to getting those 19 major victories?

This downfall will be one of sport’s biggest disappointments in recent years. It will certainly be comparable to the 2007 New England Patriots’ near-perfect season or even USC’s failure to capture a second consecutive national championship in the 2005 Rose Bowl Game against the University of Texas. Woods’ career will be viewed in history as a story of not one golfer, but two golfers: the pre-scandal Woods and the post-scandal Woods. Sports historians and analysts will debate what will be a very popular what-if question: What if The National Enquirer never wrote about Rachel Uchitel, and that accident never happened in the wee hours of Thanksgiving 2009?

The sport of golf needs Woods’ dominance. As any older member of the PGA Tour will admit, Woods is the reason for the additional sponsorships to tournaments as well as the higher tournament winnings. During Woods’ lost season in 2008, when he was recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, ratings for golf tournaments plummeted and the PGA Tour lost a lot of revenue. Without the superority of Woods to look forward to at a typical tournament, the ratings and sponsorships will surely go down. It will be golf’s worst nightmare, as there are few golfers whose talent can be compared to Tiger’s.

All that is just speculation, as only one year has passed, and even athletes like Woods have an off year or two. His journey back to the top of the pack will be rougher than the average athlete’s, as Woods does not have a team to lean on.

Golf is an individual sport, which requires the mental and physical strength that Woods has shown he possessed in previous years.

If he can get his life back in order, he can focus on his golf game and continue his rigorous practice procedures that helped him win 12 major tournaments. If he can get his game back, Woods can save golf as a prominent and popular sport in America. Woods’ career may be a great comeback story, and many people will learn to forgive him for his mistakes. But for now, those are just big ifs.