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Like Griffey Jr., Woods breaking down too early

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By Don Markus

My first inclination in hearing Tiger Woods had withdrawn after nine holes of the Players Championship was that he had tanked. Four over par after a triple-bogey 7 on the second hole, playing a course he's never liked, Woods knew he had no shot of winning and, perhaps, only a little better chance of making the cut.

So why not limp off with a preexisting injury, return home to his new Florida compound with its state of the art practice facility and get ready for next month's U.S. Open at Congressional? Even my 17-year old, a huge Woods fan, was skeptical of whether Tiger was really hurt. 

But then I read the accounts of what Woods said about his knee and Achilles giving him problems -- the same knee that has undergone four operations and the Achilles that he had tweaked hitting one shot from under a tree in the final round of the Masters. I heard what one of his playing partners, Matt Kuchar, had said about how slow Woods was walking to his ball.

And then I started thinking about Ken Griffey, Jr.


Tiger and Junior have long been linked -- as phenoms who took over their respective sports at a very tender age, as friends who ran in the same circles down in Florida years back, and as athletes who fell just short of being proclaimed as the greatest ever because injuries derailed their respective careers.

It was painful to watch the down side of Griffey's career, flailing at pitches he once pulverized, watching balls that he used to chase down effortlessly or catch spectacularly sail over his head.

Just as his father, Ken Griffey Sr., hung on too long in order to play in the same lineup with his son, Junior hung around a few years too long until he tearfully, and thankfully, hung up his spikes.

But in not succumbing to steroids as many of his generation's great hitters -- and at least one dominant pitcher named Roger Clemens -- did, Griffey broke down on the back stretch like a great racehorse. It was tragic, but it was in a way heroic, given the manner in which Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa all went out.

Not that Tiger's career is over, but at age 35, it certainly appears that Woods has little chance of catching Jack Nicklaus as golf's all-time major champion and arguably its greatest player. Four more majors seems like 40 now.

He is nearly three years removed from his last major victory -- the playing-on-one-leg sudden death win in the U.S. Open over Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines -- and nearly 18 months separated from his last victory, at the Australian Masters.

We all know what followed. But as much as his infidelities sabotaged his image as a family man and emptied his bank account and took away his career as a billionaire pitchman, his injuries have served to satisfy those who hoped he would never return to form.

Except for a couple of brief blasts from the past, once during last year's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where a decade before he had obliterated the field by 15 shots, and again in the final round this year at Augusta, the Woods we have seen for the past two years is the byproduct of too many body-contorting swings and, perhaps, one too many swing changes.

Having covered golf for years, I know the history that speaks of players who have won majors past the age of 35. But for each Ben Hogan, whose life was nearly ended in a tragic car accident before he even built his legend by winning his first major at age 36, there are countless more players who didn't come close to sniffing another major once they hit that age.

But when I look at Woods these days, I don't think of Tom Watson or Arnold Palmer as much as I do of Ken Griffey Jr.     

Just as Junior seemed to be on his way to shattering the records of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, only to have his body betray him, I think Tiger has reached the same juncture.

Given the rumors that swirled around Woods and the Canadian doctor who had reportedly treated him with what was called a blood-spinning procedure, let's hope that Woods doesn't get swayed as Bonds and the rest of baseball's cheaters did in keeping alive his pursuit of Nicklaus's record of 18 majors.

At 14 majors and no longer counting, being golf's Ken Griffey Jr. is not such a bad thing.

Comments

I agree that Woods' pursuit of Nicklaus may fall short.

I always believed all the torque in his swing would cause back problems, but instead it seems like those problems with his left knee have been the most serious issue.

The combination of injuries and his personal problems have burst the bubble of Tiger's mystique. That psychological edge he used to have over the other players has simply vanished and isn't likely to return.

Steroids.

Uh, could his injuries have been caused by....steroids? Absolutely. I have heard of golfers having back problems. I have never heard of a golfer having knee and achilles problems. Just a coincidence that Tiger's doctor is linked to steroids. Yeah, right.

Well I for one will have to disagree. I think Tiger still takes major title and will win quite a few more before he reaches 50 years old.

The great thing about golf is that you canstill win with intelligent gourse management and nobody does that better than Tiger. Game smarts doesn't go away with age it actually gets better.


Even if he doesn't beat Jacks major title, Tiger is still the greatest to play the game, no offense to Jack. Although Jack had a couple fo great competitors in Palmer, Watson, Norman and couple others, he had nowhere near the level of talent that plays on the tour these days.

I know you can't compare era's but the game is way more diificult these days because of the course changes. I know the equipment has improved as well but not enough to where the shear strength of these players couldn't overpower the old courses with the old equipment.

Just better athletes todays and better coaching.

I say Tiger goes out on top!!! Not like Griffey.

Don't go too fast in your comments about PED and Woods. He's already done them. This is a big reason why his body IS breaking down now.

Two to three years ago when Johnny Miller said, "Look at how big Tiger's arms are - you simply cannot swing a golf club if your arms are that large"... at that point, I knew Tiger was juicing, and it was a matter of time before his body started falling apart. Here it is, 3 years later, and Tiger's about 30 pounds smaller and his body is falling apart... is this shocking to any one ?

Let me first say that I think Tiger is the best golfer I have ever seen and I watched Jack for years. So what I have to say now is not said by a "Tiger hater.:

While there is no proof, I believe that Tiger is breaking down because of use of anabolic steroids. There is little that would change my opinion. I think that Tiger has been using and has been doing so for years. And what we are seeing is the inevitable consequence of the use of these drugs.

It is a shame. Tiger in his own way was as dominant as Mike Tyson was in boxing. I just really hope that the end of his career is not what we remember of Tiger like we do with Iron Mike. Iron Mike was the most dominant heavyweight of the past few generations all the way back to Ali. But all we will remember of him is biting the ear of Holyfield. I hope that we remember the greatness of Tiger Woods and not the car accidents and divorces and poor play that has characterized the past few years.

Don, I really enjoyed this piece. I don't know if it's too soon to call Woods finished as far as catching Nicklaus, but maybe it is. I really enjoyed your comparison to Ken Griffey Jr. who I still maintain is the best baseball player of my childhood because he didn't do the steroids, and he legitimately hit those home runs with a purely natural swing. I think it is quite tragic to know that those records would have been shattered by Griffey Jr. had he not been hurt those several years in between while guys who took the easy road and turned to steroids will be noted as players who beat these legends records. I think that in the end though, the true legends are guys like Griffey and Woods who did things the right way and were just purely gifted at what they did, that earns a lot more respect in my book than some person who had to do it the easy way.

OR
steroid use at an early age creates joint injuries later.

No one can state unequivocally who did and didn't use. Sure, there are a few who got caught, more who got outed, and some who are just plain obvious.

But to state with absolute certainty based solely on "reputation" serves only to perpetuate that which is only an assumption.

How many people said the same thing about Manny Ramirez just two years ago ?

The 54-year-old was one of Woods' closest confidants when he first turned professional, but now plays most of his golf on the over-50s Champions Tour. http://bit.ly/iQWopV


iger'll be just fine. He unwisely let the PGA Tour bully him into playing the Players before he fully healed. He's already the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) and he'll have 44 chances to win 5 majors (to reach 19) by age 46, the age at which Jack won his last major.

No question that the EEE-lin matter sent him sideways, a victim of a kind of gold digger drive by. BTW, would there have been even two seconds of coverage of his personal issues had his wife been named Shaniqua? Just askin'.
Tiger, get healthy, get back on the course, and get even.

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