After winning 79 PGA titles, including 14 Major crowns, Tiger Woods is regarded as one of the best players to ever grace a golf course, but as of late, it's appeared an arduous effort for the 39-year-old to put together a succession of positive rounds. On Thursday, that continued when Woods could only post a 76 during the opening round of The Open at St Andrews to find himself requiring a miraculous day two to avoid missing the cut in two Majors in the space of a month.
It continues a remarkable fall from grace for the American, who now sits at 241 in the world golf rankings, just 16 months after he was placed at his seemingly rightful spot at the top of the standings. The question on everyone's lips is whether one of the greatest sportsmen of our generation can recapture the form that made him such a household figure around the world, and while that seems an unlikely occurrence, we shouldn't write off the Jupiter Island resident just yet.
One of the main factors behind Woods's sharp decline has been his fitness. Up until hurting his back at the Honda Classic in 2014, Woods had held the number one ranking position for the best part of a year, something which highlighted his consistency given that he hadn't prevailed in a Major tournament since 2008. He was enjoying something of a renaissance in the sport after dropping down to 23 in the standings at the end of 2011, with eight victories and 14 top-10 finishes from 41 tournaments leaving him above the chasing pack.
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But since undergoing back surgery before last year's Masters, Woods has lost the aura that had followed him for the best part of two decades. The man who once seemed untouchable is back among the pack scrapping and fighting for his career, with some questioning whether he should put away his clubs for good to preserve his legacy. A fair comment, perhaps, but while his results haven't been encouraging, his body language in most cases has. Woods knows that his golf isn't up to scratch right now, but outwardly, he's displaying an acceptance that it's going to take months of hard work to get him back into contention at the top of the game.
On the penultimate day of 2015, Woods enters his forties, so from a professional golf perspective, he hardly has time on his side but while there's a reluctance to completely pass the torch to the likes of Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, it's impossible to write him off. The statistics don't lie - Woods hasn't finished in the top 10 of any tournament in his last 16 appearances, but with sportsmen of a calibre such as Woods, it just needs something small for a switch to be flicked, more so from a physical perspective as he looks to remodel his swing.
From a mental standpoint though, Woods must accept that the game has evolved since his glory years and an adjustment needs to be made if he is to compete with the elite. That became increasingly evident during Thursday's play at St Andrews as he struggled during the opening holes alongside playing partners Jason Day and Louis Oosthuizen. Woods had put together a strategy of using an iron from the tee, looking to manoeuvre his way through holes rather than looking for the distance that would leave him with easier approach shots on a course that was seeing birdies made for fun on the front nine.
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The tactics had paid off for Woods in the past, with two of his three Open triumphs coming at The Old Course, but his efforts during the opening 30 minutes of his round left him trailing Day and Oosthuizen in terms of distance and on the leaderboard. On the first, Woods was a good 50 yards short before he struck his approach into the water, and the hole that followed offered little justification for his mindset after he left his second shot 40 yards short of the green. A poor connection with either shot could have played its part but Woods was taking the complex approach to something that, at least from an outside viewpoint, appeared routine.
Woods soon fell to four-over-par, but to his credit, he recovered his round to an extent by playing out the remaining 11 holes in level par. The back nine was playing difficult so that was an achievement in itself, but while he will take the positives from that, the damage had already been done, for this tournament at least. Woods needs to shoot a score of no more than 66 to realistically have any chance of making the weekend, and with his tee-off time not coming until 6.10pm, when the greens have quickened up and darkness will set in for the second part of his round, it seems unlikely that he'll take his place in the third round.
However, if Woods can return Stateside on the back of an under-par round, there will remain a level of respectability about his play, and that's important heading into the US PGA Championship on August 13. With Woods currently a non-factor in the Fedex Cup standings, he needs to make an impact at Whistling Straits or his season will end on a low note. It would mean more time to hone his swing, but what Woods requires is competitive rounds. A top 10 or even a tournament victory would reignite his career, but if he's left with only a few appearances for the remainder of 2015, he will find it tougher to make an impact next season.