How Long Will We Continue to Fall Victim to the Tiger Woods Tease?

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How Long Will We Continue to Fall Victim to the Tiger Woods Tease?
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Here it comes again, right on schedule. The British Open starts Thursday, which means it's time for another delivery of optimism about Tiger Woods finally winning his 15th major championship.

This train is never late to the station, and its arrival is always anxiously awaited by Tiger's eternally hopeful legion of fans. That's remarkable, considering there's little reason to believe it won't just be another shipment of false promises and unmet expectations.

The staunch Tiger believers are like folks who see a weather forecast that calls for a 95 percent chance of rain and focus on the 5 percent chance of clear skies.

And the latest rays of sunshine to catch their eyes stem largely from two things. One is recent and mildly relevant. The other, by golfing standards, is ancient history.

Yes, Tiger did navigate the Greenbrier Classic two weekends ago without having the wheels come off like they did during his missed-cut trip to the U.S. Open. Also, Tiger did sail through his first bogey-free round since 2013 while in West Virginia. And his short game produced eye-catching numbers for "proximity to the hole," which a USA Today headline touted as the stat that shows Tiger "might be closer to winning than you think."

That's a whole lot of excitement over a 32nd-place finish.

TED S. WARREN/Associated Press
Tiger is far removed from his victory at the 2005 British Open.

The second big factor allegedly in Tiger's favor is this British Open will be played at St. Andrews, the "home of golf," where Woods has claimed two of his major titles.

So here's a trivia question: Where hasn't Tiger won?

Wouldn't it be great if all it took for Tiger to win was to return to the site of a previous victory? He could just fire a dart at a map, blindfolded, and then hop on a private plane and be on his way.

Reality check: Tiger's last win at St. Andrews was in 2005. How long ago was that? Well, the respective MVPs of the NFL and NBA that year were Shaun Alexander and Steve Nash.

Tiger's other win at St. Andrews was way, way back in 2000, when Jordan Spieth was getting ready to blow out seven candles on his birthday cake. Tiger didn't land in a single fairway bunker all week at that tournament, unlike his persistent waywardness off the tee in recent years.

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Since then, there have been several surgeries and a parade of swing coaches, yet no major championships since 2008. The drought should have put a cork in the bottle that contains the Tiger Kool-Aid, but it hasn't.

And it's not just fans who keep falling for the Tiger tease and proclaiming he's just a few putts away from returning to greatness. Golfing figures with unquestioned credentials have also been propping up Woods' hopes.

Speaking to Bernie McGuire of Reuters at the Scottish Open, Phil Mickelson said Tiger's two previous wins at St. Andrews will be a big help this week.

"That will make it much easier for him to find that level of play because he's done it before," Mickelson said. "I would never rule him out, especially with his strength and also the fact he's healthy."

Mickelson added the following, with unbridled optimism: "I don't know when Tiger will get back to the level he expects, and I don't know how long that will take, but I just know he will eventually get there."

Andy North, an ESPN analyst and two-time major winner, also bought into the Tiger resurrection theory after Woods' final-round 67 at the Greenbrier.

"Sunday was a huge day for him, and he can contend at the Open Championship," North told Justin Terranova of the New York Post. "It's a golf course that fits him well. If he goes over there and drives and putts the ball well, he has a chance."

No one can blame Tiger for contributing to the latest round of propaganda after he told reporters at the Greenbrier that, with a little luck, his round of 67 "could have been one of those special rounds," per Jason Sobel of ESPN.com.

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
Woods had one of the worst days of his career at last month's U.S. Open.

But it all makes one wonder what it will take to make us turn away and quit gawking at the train wreck that Tiger has become.

His second-round 82 at the Phoenix Open didn't do it.

His career-worst 85 at the Memorial didn't do it.

And neither did his first-round 80 at last month's U.S. Open. During that meltdown, Fox kept a camera on him, every wretched stroke of the way, which suggests the television moguls know there's a substantial audience that wants to see how bad Tiger will be this time around. Like rubberneckers passing a crash scene, they can't look away.

And there may be as many of them as there are people who want to see if Tiger can contend.

The nature of golf makes it understandable that there's a reluctance to outright close the book on Tiger ever being a force again. But the conversation has shifted from whether he'll match Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles to whether even one more major is possible. At this point, that would seem like a mini miracle, with Woods' 40th birthday just five months away.

Nicklaus won two majors at the age of 40, and another at 46, and there have been plenty of other 40-somethings who got hot and stole majors late in their careers. But Tiger has yet to deliver any evidence he'll join that list.

AMY SANCETTA/Associated Press
Nick Faldo helped Tiger with his first green jacket in 1997, but he hasn't hesitated to assess Woods honestly.

Sir Nick Faldo has had the most consistent and emotion-free view of Tiger's slow demise. Maybe that courage comes from being knighted, but the three-time champion of the Brit hasn't been afraid to size up Woods objectively while others keep wishing for a golfing Camelot.

During the Greenbrier, the CBS analyst painted a dark picture of what he thinks will happen if Tiger is somehow able to get in the hunt this week (via the New York Post):

When Tiger is under pressure, [his swing] is a completely different speed. There are plenty of pressure tee shots at St. Andrews to avoid the gorse and put it in the right places. Under pressure he doesn't like certain shots and he's unable to deal with them. That is the mind game. Puts him under pressure and then the tempo is completely different.

And there will be plenty of pressure this weekand at next month's PGA Championship.

You can't help but wonder how long the Tiger optimists will have the stomach to keep watching. Another year? Two?

When most sports stars fade, it's a fairly quick disappearing act. But with all of his tournament exemptions, including in the majors, Tiger will remain on golf's center stage.

So maybe the question isn't whether we'll see the real Tiger again, but rather how much more of this even his most devoted loyalists can take.

 

Tom Weir covered several golf majors as a columnist for USA Today.

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