Tiger Truthers vs. Tiger Critics: Welcome to the most polarizing debate in golf

Tiger Woods
AP
Tiger Woods has struggled in the majors, including the U.S. Open at Merion (left). But he's also won five events this year, including the Bridgestone Invitational (right).

We live today in a land divided, its population split between hard-eyed realists who are certain there's a problem, and ardent believers who, despite the evidence, persist in their insistence that everything's okay.

Global warming? Nah.

We're talking Tiger Woods and the polarized debate that pits his harshest critics against a fervent band of Tiger Truthers. Here's how the heated conversation sounds:

Critic: Let's face it. Your man has issues.

Truther: Issues? He's won five times this year, including the Players.

Critic: The Players? Ask any golf fan how many majors Jack Nicklaus won. They'll know the answer. Ask how many times Jack won the Players and you'll get crickets. Golf fans know what matters. So does Tiger. And deep down, be honest, so do you.

Truther: Here's some honesty. Tiger's other four wins this year were at big-time events.

Critic: Remember when we used to talk of Tiger-proofing? Today the term should really be Tiger-abetting. Tournament directors know where their bread is buttered. You want TV viewers? You better have Tiger Woods around on the weekend. So if you're running Bay Hill, or Torrey, or Doral, you're not going to set the course up with four-inch rough everywhere. There are all sorts of ways that tournaments accommodate Tiger's innacuracy these days. He can win on a course where he has an out. He's got less chance at venues that are set up for majors, at places like Muirfield and Oak Hill where you can't be one-sided.

Truther: He was this close at a couple of majors this year.

Critic: Next you'll tell me he just needs more reps.

Truther: What I'll tell you is that next year's majors set up well for him. He's won at three of the four 2014 host sites.

Critic: Lee Trevino won at three of the four sites this year. A lot of good that did him.

Truther: You can't be serious. Trevino is 73 years old.

Critic: Tiger's the exact inverse. He's an old 37.

Truther: Come on. He's fit. He's buff. His bad injuries are behind him.

Critic: He's buff, for sure. But is that good for his game? Golf is about quickness, not strength. Tiger used to dominate with quickness. He was lean and limber, and he hit the ball longer than most everybody. He still has the potential to be Bubba-long. But as he's bulked up and become musclebound, his swing has gotten shorter, slower and less accurate. Buff looks good in a bathing suit on a yacht, so he's got that going for him. It's less impressive on the tee. This year on Tour, Tiger is 32nd in driving distance and 55th in driving accuracy. Middle of the pack stuff from a guy who used to blast it by everybody else.

Truther: You know what they say: Drive for show, putt for dough.

Critic: They do say say that. And earlier this year, Tiger's putter was a big part of his success. He ranked number one in strokes-gained putting. But that was then. He's dropped back down to 35th. In pretty much every stat that matters, Tiger is seriously diminished.

Truther: I'll give you some stats. Number one in the world rankings. Number one in FedEx points. Number one in ... hey, wake up!

Critic: ... Huh? ... Wha? Sorry, I nodded off when you mentioned the world rankings. Let's take a look at more meaningful metrics. Greens in regulation. He's 20th. When he was with Butch Harmon, he ruled that category. Even under Hank Haney. Think back to before he hit that fire hydrant. Tiger was on or near the top of the ball-striking heap. And he got up and down from everywhere. Have you checked out his chipping lately? Did you see those chili-dips at Merion? He ranks 90th in scrambling on Tour these days. I could go on. From 2001 to 2008, he was among the top-three in birdies from the rough. Post-scandal, he's hovered in the 45th to 55th range. It used to be that there was nobody better. Now, he's pretty much just average from the rough.

Truther: Muirfield had some serious hay. Tiger played his way into the second to last group on Sunday.

Critic: And shot 75! Of all the guys who finished in the Top 20 at the Open, only Hunter Mahan and Sergio Garcia shot that high a score.

Truther: The bounces didn't go his way. Like what happened to him at Augusta.

Critic: That was a bad break. But in golf, you make your own luck. And when it matters most, Tiger has mostly made a mess. Look at his scoring average on the weekends this year. Going into the PGA Championship, he ranked 103rd in third-round scoring. And 143rd in final round scoring.

Truther: Are you calling Tiger a choker?

Critic: I'm just saying that everybody has a breaking point, and yeah, Tiger Woods is choking in the majors. Mentally, he's not where he used to be. Back in the day, Tiger was the one everybody copied. Now he's started copying the people who used to copy him. He saw what Justin Rose and Hunter Mahan were doing under Sean Foley, so he went to Sean. Sean's a great instructor, but not every instructor is best for every player. Brandel Chamblee said it well: Hunter and Justin came to Sean with questions, and they got answers. Tiger had all the answers. Now his head is filled with questions.

Truther: The bookmakers in Vegas don't have much doubt. They've already listed him as the favorite for the 2014 Masters. The Vegas bookmakers are no dopes.

Critic: No doubt. And they know how to tempt you with a sucker bet. Tiger has been the heavy favorite in every major he's played since he won his first Masters in 1997, often at close to even-money. He won less than 25 percent of them. Bookies rake it in when the favorite doesn't win, and Vegas has won millions booking Tiger wagers. If you bet Tiger to win any of the 18 majors he's entered since the 2008 U.S. Open, how much money would you have made?

Truther: Not nearly as much as he's won on the course since then.

Critic: He should use that dough to buy some player-improvement clubs. Seriously, though, I'll grant you this. Tiger is the greatest player of his era. Probably the greatest player of all time. He has dominated in a period when golf is a truly global game, not a niche pursuit, played by serious athletes all around the world who could have competed at a high level in other sports -- as opposed to the small handful of real jocks who took up golf in Jack Nicklaus' day. A lot of those guys were inspired by Tiger. He changed the game. And even today, with all the increased competition, Tiger at 50 percent is still better than them. Problem is, that's about what he is: fifty percent of what he was.

Truther: So you admit it, he's still the king.

Critic: But the crown weighs heavy, and he's slumping on the throne. The golden age of his reign is over.

Truther: You're a smug elitist.

Critic: You're a deluded wingnut.

Truther: Enough of this crap! I'm getting hot under the collar.

Critic: Global warming will do that to you.

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