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Can Tiger Woods Ever Return to the Golfing Elite

November 13, 2016

- Grant Whittington

It is 20 years since a young and fresh-faced Tiger Woods first announced his arrival on the international golf scene, during the late, balmy summer of 1996. Within a year he had already won his first major (the 1997 Masters), while revolutionising the sport and the fundamental attitude of other, leading players. Within just 8 years, he had claimed 10 major honours and was well on the way to becoming the greatest (and most marketable) golfer of all time.

Despite further periods of success during the mid and late noughties; however, Woods’ career seems to have plunged into a sad and terminal decline. He has been stuck on 14 majors since winning the US Open back in 2008, although the nature of this success (when he stayed the course despite suffering with a chronic knee injury) highlights the unique determination that augmented Woods’ incredible natural talent. With further injuries, age and a host of personal issues also blighting Woods’ latter career, the chances of him returning to the golfing elite seem more distant than ever.

Can Woods Ever Reclaim His Place Among the Golfing Elite?

This increasingly remote possibility took a further hit recently, when Woods withdrew from a reported comeback at the Safeway Open in California. Despite being considered the type of low-key and relaxed tournament that would enable Woods to resume his career away from the spotlight, the former world number one pulled out just days before before the first-tee citing a lack of physical and mental sharpness for the rigours of professional competition.

While many pundits and fans questioned Woods’ mind-set and suggested that he may never be able to return to golf’s elite, however, he has found considerable support among his fellow players. Phil Mickelson has backed Tiger’s decision to delay his return, for example, saying that he must be both physically and mentally ready if he is to compete at the highest level. The question that remains is whether this time will ever come, and it certainly appears increasingly unlikely that Woods will return to the fold this season.

After all, Woods has not competed since August 2015, and six-time major winner Sir Nick Faldo certainly believes that the odds are against Tiger’s return. With the player himself referring to his game as being ‘vulnerable’ Faldo believes that time is running out for Woods to recapture the style, confidence and swagger that is necessary to compete with the best players in the world. This factor, when allied with Wood’s perceived lack of hunger and physical stamina, seems to suggest that the man who changed the face of golf may never compete at the highest level again.

The Future for Woods

It is perhaps a lack of belief and mental strength that is most debilitating for Woods, who at his peak had the ability to beat opponents before he had even reached the first tee. After all, the man who won the US Open in 2008 was confronted with debilitating injuries and a sustained lack of game time, and these factors still didn’t stop him recording a famous win.

Years of failure and draining personal issues may finally have taken their toll on Woods’ mind-set, however, making it hard for him to sustain the belief or hunger that drove him at the outset of his career. Ultimately, it is this mental block that Woods must overcome if he is to compete across 72 holes of golf in any company, never mind the young elite that currently challenge for the sport’s major honours.

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