For Tiger Woods, Thanksgiving marks the time his legacy crashed and burned
Exactly five years ago today, Tiger Woods was the most dominant athlete in the world.
He was on pace to shatter Jack Nicklaus’ majors record. He made us care about golf. When he played, it was must-see TV.
Unfortunately, on the Thanksgiving holiday five years ago, he was must-see TV for a different reason. When it was reported there was an incident at his house that ended with him crashing into a fire hydrant, the aura of Tiger Woods changed forever.
Following the story, there was a scandal. Then there was a divorce. Then there was debilitating injury after debilitating injury.
In that five-year span, other, younger, hungrier golfers figured out that Tiger was actually human. You no longer wilted when you faced him on Sunday. And usually, he wasn’t in close enough contention on Sundays to scare you anyway.
As fans, we kept waiting for the breakthrough. He won some tournaments – mostly ones he’s dominated in the past – but the elusive major victory never came.
He had his chances. There was the 2010 Masters, when he returned to golf, and finished tied for fourth. He was in contention in the 2012 Open Championship, before a triple bogey on Sunday – the type of falter we never see from Tiger when a win’s on the line – left him tied for third.
His best potential opportunity was in the 2013 Masters. In the second round, he hit a perfect shot that hit the pin and rolled in the water. He bogeyed, but he was assessed a two-stroke penalty for illegally dropping his ball in the wrong spot, which led to a frustrating fourth place finish.
We’re not waiting for the breakthrough anymore. We’ve accepted the dominance is never coming back. We don’t wonder whether he’ll catch Jack anymore; we wonder if he’ll ever win a major again.
He can switch swing coaches. He can tell us he’s healthy. He can pick fights with the media. All of it is a mirage. We’ve heard this story before, and we already know how it ends.
The scandal submarined one of the all-time great’s career. Tiger was Teflon, but after the Thanksgiving events from five years ago, we cared about every Tiger headline that wasn’t golf related.
The incident added unwanted pressure to an already incredibly difficult task. He was chasing history. He didn’t have time to chase doubt out of the minds of golf fans.
When his body broke down soon after, it was pretty clear that the Tiger we knew was gone. But we didn’t want to accept it because we always thought, mentally, there was no one stronger in golf.
Once he lost that mental edge, it didn’t matter how he played physically. Not only were opponents not afraid to play with him; they began to relish it. They weren’t going against Michael Jordan in 1996 anymore. They were going against the very beatable 2001 Jordan. Big difference.
When Tiger’s career is over, and we look back at the entirety of what he accomplished, it’ll be one of the most dominant peaks we’ve ever seen in professional sports.
We’ll remember the greatness, but we’ll also remember November 27, 2009.
It’s the official day Tiger’s brilliance was over.