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Brave New Post-Tiger World

After going winless in 2010 (the first winless season of his career), Woods moves forward into a golf world that might not recognize him any longer.

by Blaine Newnham

For the first time in more than a decade – like 14 years – Tiger Woods did not win a tournament and was not invited to this week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Maui, the opening event of the PGA Tour season.

Not that he came when he was invited, but his absence may be more than symbolic.

Before Woods can resume his goal of surpassing the Major wins of Jack Nicklaus – his first event will likely be the tour stop at Torrey Pines the last week of the month – he has to win a tournament. Any tournament.

He just turned 35. Ben Hogan won eight majors after he was 35. Woods needs to win only five to outdo Nicklaus.

But will he? In my opinion, the last five will be more difficult than the first 14.

He won’t have the psychological advantage he had ten years ago when he actually frightened the competition – not just intimidated them, but actually frightened them.

I was fortunate to witness his four consecutive major wins, technically not the Grand Slam, but without question the greatest achievement in golf history.

The U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by 15 strokes, the British at St. Andrews by eight strokes. A scintillating playoff win at the PGA at Valhalla and the next year the Masters at Augusta.

It was not a competition, but a coronation. The players were beaten before they started.

Ernie Els, second at Pebble that year, said “Even if I had played out of my mind, I would have lost by six or seven strokes.”

Nick Price, a three-time major champion, said in the wake of Woods’ win at Pebble, “We’ve felt all along that someone would come along who could drive the ball 300 yards and putt like Ben Crenshaw. Well, Tiger Woods drives it better than anyone I’ve ever seen and putts better than Crenshaw. I’ve had my day. I’m 43. I feel for the young guys. They are going to take a pounding.”

Yes, and no.

While players like Els and Price could see their careers crashing behind them, the young bucks of today’s tour see Woods as a fantastic, but flawed, talent. They’ve seen him win one Major – the 2008 U.S. Open – in the past three seasons.

They’ve seen him discard swing coaches and disappoint his wife. They’ve seen a knee buckle under that vicious swing.

They respect him, without fearing him. They don’t carry the scars of his resounding triumphs in 2000 the way Sergio Garcia and David Duval did.

No one has ever focused or competed better in golf’s history than Woods. But he has not come close to matching the ball striking of Hogan, for example. Or the course management of Nicklaus.

Woods must show he can again not only dominate Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els, but the rest of the world as well – the Graeme McDowells, the Rory McIlroys and Rickie Fowlers, or perhaps even someone like South Korea’s Noh Seung-yul.

Will Woods, free now of not only his wife but also the ominous – and false – expectations that he is some kind of perfect person, focus even more than he did before?

We‘ll see, but just not in Hawaii. Tiger didn’t make the cut.

Blaine Newnham is a former sports columnist and assistant managing editor for the Seattle Times. He covered the 1966 U.S. Open, following Ben Hogan around the Olympic Club. He covered his first Masters in 1987, when Larry Mize won it in a playoff with an unlikely chip shot. He covered the four majors of the “Tiger Slam”, when Woods won his four consecutive championships. In 2002, Blaine wrote a book titled “Golf Basics”.