Golfnutter: Rory – the new Tiger?

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By the time this is published the first of this year’s majors – The Masters – will be but 13 days away.  And as with any Masters during the last twenty years, Tiger Woods remains one of the big stories.  Whether Tiger will compete and anything to do with Rory McIlroy are probably the two leading items prior to this year’s Masters.

Rory’s grip on the “world’s best golfer” title is not in doubt.  Nor is his enduring appeal to golf media hungry to assign someone to take over Tiger’s not inconsiderable mantle.  Emphasising this is the latest cover of Golf Digest which depicts Rory’s head, photo-shopped on to an Adonis-type body in Adonis-type pose, alongside the words: Rory – The New Model for Greatness.

That Rory McIlroy is golf’s big thing, and that at his best there is some distance between him and second place, is not doubted.  But putting Rory up there alongside Tiger, in terms of the way they dominate their respective peers, is simply not credible.  Golfing media however, are desperate to offset the probable loss of Tiger Woods from golf’s leaderboards and will do anything to boost public interest, especially in the weeks leading up to the Masters.

On the opening day of last year’s Masters the viewing figures for ESPN’s live coverage was down by 30% on the previous year.  The reason: the absence of Tiger Woods.  Whenever Woods did not compete in a PGA Tour event in his prime years – 1999 to 2006 – viewing numbers fell anywhere between 25 and 33 percent.  Would Rory’s absence have such an effect?

Lest we forget the extent of Tiger’s dominance, we need remind ourselves of some facts.  As at the end of the 2013/14 season, Woods had won 26 percent of his starts on the tour as a pro.  By comparison Jack Nicklaus won 13 percent of his starts.  No one else who has played for a reasonable amount of time comes close.

This dominance is best displayed in Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) stats, particularly those quantifying the gap between the world’s top-ranked player and those rounding out the top-five.  But first a look at the current OWGR, which reflects Rory’s best golfing year to date:

Note the difference between Tiger and whoever it was ranked number two.  Even though Official World Ranking is a recent event (1986), it is a reasonable argument to proffer that no golfer has so dominated the game as has Tiger Woods.  Those who place Rory’s game on the same shelf as Tiger’s would do well to remember this.

That Tiger’s game is nowhere near the giddy heights of where it used to be is not in doubt: what is doubted is the extent of the fall.  I personally don’t expect to see Tiger compete at the top level again.  If that is the case, then golf will suffer and will continue to do so until Rory, or some other golfing Adonis can attract the attention that Tiger once commanded.

The argument that Tiger will no longer threaten the world’s best was strengthened by a recent display of short-game skills that touring pros simply don’t do.  Watching Tiger succumb to chipping fat, in successive shots and off perfect lies, is just part evidence of a game in turmoil.

The decline in his ability to handle pressure – an asset he possessed possibly more than anyone who has played the game – can be traced back to the emergence of the scandal that changed Woods’ life in late 2009.  Perhaps the trauma associated with being so openly shamed removed his innate ability to act the best, play the best, be the best, because the simple fact is that since that time, he hasn’t, isn’t and will not be.  Couple this with reoccurring injury and related problems, and the likelihood of Tiger returning to top-level golf such as that required to win majors is, sadly, low, very low.

One of the ironies of this sad but inevitable decline is that the benchmark against which we measure Tiger is the standard that he himself set.  A standard never before achieved in the game of golf, and one which will probably never be seen again.

Yes, Rory is one hell of a talent, but he isn’t up where that other guy was – yet.

Golfnutter

Mar-15

OWGR Pos. Player Rank points
1st Rory McIlroy 11.16
2nd Bubba Watson 7.62
3rd Henrik Stenson 7.41
4th Adam Scott 6.83
5th Jason Day 6.6

Compare this to Tiger’s best two years:

Dec-00

OWGR Pos. Player Rank points
1st Tiger Woods 29.4
2nd Ernie Els 11.65
3rd David Duval 11.2
4th Phil Mickelson 11.07
5th Lee Westwood 9.46

Dec-06

OWGR Pos. Player Rank points
1st Tiger Woods 20.41
2nd Jim Furyk 8.88
3rd Phil Mickelson 7.17
4th Adam Scott 7.03
5th Ernie Els 6.05