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Tiger Woods, golf history –the old (and new)

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Professional golf history can be mostly broken into clean lines. Starting with Bobby Jones, running through Tiger Woods, golf can be easily understood. Each era brought new things to the game; Ben Hogan ushered in the idea of extreme practice, Tiger Woods brought precise physical fitness, Jack Nicklaus yardage books and preparation, etc, etc.

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Each one of them has been exciting and exhilarating; I’d even go as far to say that each era has been better than the last.

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Almost always, we got to see the transition of those eras. We got to see Hogan and Snead against Palmer, Palmer against Nicklaus. Even in times where things aren’t as clean, like the gap between the Bobby Jones era and The Big Three had Jones playing against Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen, and Tiger against Greg Norman and Nick Faldo and Nick Price.

But with Tiger Woods, we’re missing out on the best player of all time playing against the up and comers. Since 2008, when he won his last major, he’s won only eight times, all of which came in 2012 and 2013. He’s essentially been out of commission since 2014. In his absence, players like Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, and Dustin Johnson have become the faces of the PGA Tour. All of these players were either not on Tour or just trying to get a foothold in professional golf. None of these players, all of which have the look of future Hall-of-Famers, have taken on the greatest players of the last era. Tiger and Phil have been non-factors for five years, Tiger especially so.

But now, that might be changing.

Tiger has finished 9th, 23rd, MC, 12th, 2nd, and 5th. He’s got the third-fastest swing speed on tour, and is fifth in Strokes Gained Around-The-Green. His speed is back, and his short game is back, and truthfully, that’s all that Tiger Woods has ever needed. He won’t be the Tiger of 2000-01, of course, because whatever John Travolta-esque alien possession took him for a ride has decided to return home. But while he can’t be walking on water in a Buick commercial Tiger, he can be better than the guy who won five times in 2013, including there WGC championships.

I’m not an expert on the swing, but from my very-anecdotal eyes, his swing is much improved. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but the thing that strikes me the most is how much smaller his divots are with his wedges. Tiger, under Sean Foley and as he was trying to purge himself of the stuck-ness of his old swing, began to swing very steeply. Tiger is on his own now, after splitting with his then-coach Chris Como, but everything has improved.

He and Phil have both changed their swing, and revitalized their games. Ratings since Tiger has come back have gone through the roof, with solid Tour tournament rounds eclipsing rounds in high-end tournaments and majors. Anticipation for The Masters have never been higher. Anticipation for the Ryder Cup has never been higher. Even the most ardent Tiger partisans had doubts (I know this, because I’m one of those ardent partisans). I hoped for made cuts and solid play, with contention in the latter part of the year. I never expected this, though I hoped beyond hope.

It looks like, if things follow the trend, we’ll end up with one last Tiger charge. A few more arcing five irons, settling a few feet from the hole. A few more lashes with the driver, piercing the sky. Maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll get a few eight footers in the center of the cup, and a few more trophies on the shelf. And if we’re really, really lucky, we might just get to see Tiger take on Jordan Spieth. We might just get to see Tiger and Phil finish what they started, almost twenty-five years ago.

For nearly five years, we were stuck with our memories. We had to imagine what Tiger Woods would be like against these young guns. Now, we don’t have to. We’ll get to see the next generation take on the last generation. And if each generation is better than the last, then perhaps the old guys’ll take the new ones down a few times.

No matter what, we’re in for a treat. It’s never, ever been a better time to be a golf fan, and I, for one, am very, very excited.

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Hunter Bishop
Hunter Bishop
Senior Editor for The Ball Out: Hunter Bishop has been published over two hundred times on topics such basketball, television, and film. He holds a BA in Creative Writing from Georgia State University, and is nearing the completion of his MFA in Stage and Screenwriting. He has written for Uproxx, Swish Appeal, TVOvermind, the award-winning local newspaper the Henry Herald, and many others.

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