Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What Should We Expect From Tiger Woods

For the first time since 1998 Tiger Woods has failed to win a championship in his first 6 tries. While a lot of analysts have focused on Tiger's off the course issues, Joe Posnanski writing for SI, focuses on a different foe for Tiger...Father Time. Posnanski writes that the expectation should be that Tiger fails to break Jack's record and should no longer be favored against the field due to his age. Tiger will soon be 35, the age according to Posnanski where golfers start losing it.

While we normally think of golf as a game you can play forever the average age of a Major champ is 32. You are 3 times more likely to win a championship if you are under 35 than if you are over 35. Furthermore in golf (with a few notable exceptions) actually operates like tennis, where once you lose your dominance, the wins just don't ever come back.

Nobody really knows how Tiger will play over the next 30 odds years but I have to admit that that were once the expectation was Tiger would definitely break Jack's record, I do not think that holds anymore. Child prodigies seem to fade faster and Tiger's recent rash of injuries certainly doesn't help the aging process. Maybe Tiger does regain his dominant form but I have to admit the expectation should be more cynical. Your thoughts?


MJ said...

I don't agree because the rules that apply to the "average golfer" doesn't apply to Tiger Woods, just as they didn't apply to Jack Nicklaus.

Nicklaus won the '86 Masters as a 46 year old so there's no reason that with improved medical technology, better training methods, superior golf equipment and Tiger's innate skills that Tiger can't win five more Major Championships over the next 15 years. Why would I believe that he can't win one Major every three years before he turns 50?

Mighty Mike said...

It's a good question but let me reverse it...what evidence is there to demonstrate Tiger's ability to sustain his greatness? I think the greatness of Tiger is in many ways separate from how good he will be. Yes Tiger was great, but just because you are great does not mean you age in a linear fashion (i.e. in 5 years Tiger will be 50% of what he was) or that your greatness directly corresponds to how you age (past results are no guarantee for future results). And while all of those factors might influence things, they also provide assets to Tigers' competitors.

So let me rephrase it, what evidence would be necessary to change our (your) expectations for Tiger?

MJ said...

Let me now reverse the question to you: what evidence do you have to suggest that Tiger Woods can't age well enough to win one Major every three years?

All the evidence I need is in the kind of player Tiger Woods was as a short-game player (putting, chipping, pitching, flopping and punching). The mythology of Tiger Woods was always that he was a long and straight hitter but that was never the case. Tiger's greatness was his ability to play around the green and save par or turn in those miraculous birdie and eagle putts.

Unlike the long game, the short game never really goes away because it's less about big-muscle flexibility and more about feel and control. A 35 year old man may not have the ability to generate as much torque in his backswing to generate long drives but if you watch the Champions Tour (for PGA players 50-over), you'll see that the old guys can still pitch and putt with the best of them.

Gutsy Goldberg said...

I think the most important factor for Tiger by far is the injuries, more than the age. Tiger's body is not the same as it was 2 years ago. Let's go through the list (using the internet as memory):

Feb 2001 - hyper extended knee
Dec 2003 - minor knee injury
2007 - minor knee injury
April 2008 - knee surgery (cartilidge)
June 2008 - ACL surgery (and revealing that he played 10 months on a torn ACL, causing all sorts of unknown cartilidge damage)
May 2010 - neck injury (bulging disc)

Anyways... I don't know why we are trying to judge Tiger right now. He's not physically 100% healthy right now. Plus, he's not even 100% mentally healthy right now! I still believe, as I did in 2008, that Tiger did untold long-term damage to his knee and leg in exchange for the glory of "playing w/o an ACL for 10 months." I think that in 2011, we will see if Tiger can get his mental and physical games back on track, and that would be a better time to assess whether he could ever win a major again.

Mighty Mike said...

There's no evidence at all about Tiger's aging and given the lack of evidence, my feeling is that, the default position should be that Tiger will age as a normal superstar golfer....which is poorly. There's no evidence that Tiger is super human when it comes to injuries. And it could be simply a series of coincidences but the fact is in his 30s he has been injury prone. While admittedly circumstantial again I think it points that the default assumption which is normal aging. As always I'm happy to bet Colonel's home on the mean (which I believe I own due to an errant Vegas bet)

MJ said...

I haven't followed why we would predict normal aging for Tiger when he was never normal to begin with.

If Jack Nicklaus could win six Major Championships at the age of 35 or older, there's no reason why Tiger Woods can't win five. It's not as if medicine or technology have gotten worse over that time, nor is it as if Tiger wasn't a better golfer than Jack in his prime anyway.

A player with Tiger's short game is uniquely suited to aging gracefully and maintaining a high degree of success. The thing that always separated Tiger from the field was his incredible short game and recovery skill (not to mention his creativity at shot-making and shot-shaping).