The Ghost of Tiger Woods, Continually Teasing Us

Wednesday October 12th, 2016
Tiger Woods has dropped outside the top 700 players in the world and yet a collective optimism surrounds his game.
Robert Beck

The Ghost of Tiger Woods is with us now more than ever.

This week’s GOLF.com Podcast comes in the form of an audio column. After another negative update from Tiger Woods, his return to competitive golf has been delayed again. The "vulnerability" of his game should give us another reason to not expect greatness to return, but that won’t happen. The optimism surrounding one of golf’s greatest players breeds like bacteria.

That’s because we still believe in the Ghost of Tiger Woods. How much longer will we let it tease us? Check out the podcast below.

The ghost is seemingly all we have left. The ghost carries with him an inevitable optimism that breeds like bacteria, and exists because we allow it to. Right now, it consumes our golf dreams.

Last year we waited until April to hear Woods wouldn’t play the Masters. We waited until June to hear that he wouldn’t play the U.S. Open. We waited until September to hear he had plans to return at the Safeway Open, and then Monday saw those plans fold.

"After a lot of soul searching and honest reflection," Woods said this week. "I know that I am not yet ready to play on the PGA TOUR or compete in Turkey. My health is good, and I feel strong, but my game is vulnerable and not where it needs to be."

Tiger withdrew on Monday of tournament week, just days after officially committing to the event. The last-minute 180-degree turn came as a significant blow to a sleepy fall-series event, and it now begs the question: When was the last positive AND accurate report of Tiger Woods the golfer? It has been a while, and yet our optimism reigns…

RELATED: Will Tiger Woods Ever Play Meaningful Golf Again?

This ghost of Tiger Woods is what makes analysts and fans at his every statement, his every tweet and his every blog post. Take, for example, Johnny Miller, who just couldn’t help himself balance between roles as golf analyst and Safeway Open host.

Here’s Miller on the golf channel back in January: "Now his game is like, ‘Am I going to get the yips chipping? Can I hit a fairway? Is my back going to go out?’ All these intangibles that make you nervous. That’s what makes a person nervous. It’s not easy being Tiger right now. If he does come back, it’s not going to be easy."

And here’s Miller on the golf channel in September: "Talent always comes to the surface if you give it a chance. They always say a great fighter, or a boxer, always has one great fight left in them. I think he has more than one great fight. I really pick him to win six or eight tournaments in this second career, at least."

And then just this week, Miller told the San Francisco Chronicle he’s "disappointed and concerned for Tiger," that he hopes to see him again somewhere, but “maybe he’s tired of competing.”

The once brilliant, and now very dated history of Woods stirs up these polarizing thoughts and discussion. The chip at Augusta ["in your life" audio] …the putt at Sawgrass ["better than most" audio]…the playoff at Torrey Pines…["expect anything different?" audio] These things are all building blocks for the Ghost of Tiger Woods. But they are old. Very old. Some of them old enough to be in high school.

Associated Press/ Larry Ignelzi

We believe in Woods because Jack Nicklaus won the Masters at age 46, because Phil Mickelson won the British Open at age 43 and because in that 2015 Wyndham Championship where Woods last competed, a 51-year-old Davis Love raised the trophy.

Most notably, though, the Ghost of Tiger Woods exists because of the 2013 PGA Tour season, where Woods won five times, reascended to world number one and was named Player of the Year.

Why can’t this be another successful comeback? Why can’t the greatest talent to ever hit a golf ball come return to become the greatest 40-year-old to ever hit a golf ball. The greatest 41-year-old next year, and the greatest 45-year-old years from now.

The Ghost of Tiger Woods forces us to escape a recency bias. It forces us to believe there’s significance that he’s "flushing it" on the range. Forgive me for a second as I offer some context for those flushed range sessions.

Would you blink twice if you heard that just last week Kobe Bryant was making jump shots in the gym? Or that Brett Favre was throwing touchdowns to high schoolers in Mississippi? Or that Pedro Martinez could still strike out the side?

Flushing it on the range is something Tiger was born to do. It’s something he did and does on nearly every range he steps foot on, whether he finishes tied for 10th or misses the cut by 10. Tiger on the range is an automatic inspiration. Tiger on the course, not so much.

To say he’s a shell of his former self might actually be paying Woods a compliment. In reality, he’s been much more a fractured shell of that former self. Whole pieces—like consistency with his driver, or his efficiency from 30 yards—have gone missing altogether. It’s possible they will never return, but the ghost of Tiger Woods doesn’t want us to remember that.

It doesn’t want us to remember the chip yips, the recent back surgeries and his 2014 and 2015 regression toward very-average golf. Two months from now, at the Hero World Challenge, Woods plans to return. Until then, all we have the ghost his former self. How long will we let it tease us?

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Did you enjoy this short form podcast? Did you hate it? Let me know on Twitter at @sean_zak.

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