Johannesburg - How the mighty have fallen. From a man globally admired for being the world’s best golfer, to an individual commiserated with for the manner in which his career has hit rock bottom.
The aphorism holds true for Tiger Woods, the man who was once at the summit of world golf – winning tournaments with regularity – but now finds himself facing calls to quit the sport he loves dearly because of back problems.
At the zenith of his career, Woods swept the boards, winning a staggering 14 majors between 1997 and 2008, leading to speculation that he was going to equal Jack Nicklaus’s 18 in 2010, or even surpass that feat.
But Woods’ quest to overtake Nicklaus has stalled as he has been stuck at 14 majors for almost nine years.
It doesn’t seem like he will add another four major scalps unless his back problems can be sorted out and he can regain the form that saw him spend the most consecutive weeks (281) and most total weeks (683) as the world’s number one golfer.
At the height of his career, he reportedly made $71 million (R948 million) in off-the-course earnings, to go with his $12 million earned on the greens in 2013 alone.
The flamboyant Woods has earned more than $1.35 billion since turning professional in 1996, with barely 10% of that total derived from prize money on the golf course.
His back problems started in 2002 when he underwent surgery to remove fluid from around the anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee.
The surgery sidelined him for a few weeks, but more bad news was to follow.
In 2010, Woods also went through a nasty divorce from Elin Nordegren, which left him $100 million poorer. They were married for five years. That’s $20 million for each year of marriage.
He also suffered other ailments. He had to miss three events due to back issues: the Honda Classic (March 2014); the US Masters (April 2014) and thew WGC Bridgestone (August 2014).
He has had to ship out of other showdowns because of other injuries, but the back issue has been the underlying factor.
His poor performance on the golf course due to back problems has once again raised the question, is it time for him to retire?
Woods only returned to action in December after being out for 15 months, following two back operations.
The former world number one last week withdrew from the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai after only one round last Thursday, once again because of back issues.
The 41-year-old struggled in the first round as he shot a disappointing five over-par 77.
This score is terrible for an icon who used to shoot an average of -11 for 61 at the height of his golfing run.
Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg, told pga.com that the American suffered a back spasm at night on the first day.
“He feels terrible for [exiting] the tournament. He can’t make a full rotation on the swing.”
The golfer’s latest woes have seemingly added to the problems that have brought his career to a halt.
Furthermore, Woods has not helped his performance by changing swing coaches several times, says Paul Azinger, the Ryder Cup captain in 2008. Over 20 years, Woods has changed mentors more often than many golfers alternate their spikes. Woods is on his fourth mentor – he has changed his swing many times, but he has not gotten better. Azinger said that, in his quest to get better, “I think he’s actually gotten a little bit worse".
While some commentators think Woods should bow out, Dr Shuaib Manjra, a consultant medical doctor specialising in sports medicine and occupational health in Cape Town, says the player needs to come back.
“My feeling is that Woods is incredibly strong mentally to continue playing. Physically, his body lets him down. His game will never be the same again,” Manjra said.
After his long-time backer Nike announced in August last year that it would no longer make clubs or balls, Woods experimented with several different brands. His equipment is now sponsored by TaylorMade in a multi-year deal that was signed last month. The amount of the agreement has not been disclosed.
Sunshine Tour CEO Selwyn Nathan says Woods should not be written off as yet.
“He will recover and get back to his winning ways again one of these days.
“He was the greatest golfer of the 90s generation, much as Arnold Palmer was during his era. No need to write Tiger off,” said Nathan.
With his injuries impeding his game, it is perhaps time for Woods to bow out as he is past his prime.
Having gone through three back operations, Woods has said he has no idea when his back will recover fully.
The player has a lot of money and can surely afford the best doctors in the world, but his problem seemingly cannot be fixed.
On Friday, the former number one, who is now ranked 674th in the world, announced that he was pulling out of his next two golf tournaments due to the latest spasms.
Mind and spirit
“My doctors have advised me not to play for the next two weeks, to continue my treatment and to let my back calm down,” he said.
“This is not what I was hoping for or expecting.”
The golfer was expected to be at the Riviera Country Club for the Genesis Open next week, a tournament he last played in 2006, and the Honda Classic near his home in Florida. He said he would still go to Riviera to support the tournament.
The latest developments will cast doubt on whether he will play in the US Masters in April.
“The whole plan was to get body, mind and spirit ready for the first week in April,” he had said.