For five years Tiger Woods has been stuck.
Back in June 2008, Woods bested the field at the U.S. Open, topping Rocco Mediate in a playoff. It was his sixth major championship in a four-year span and the 14th of his career. But since that victory at Torrey Pines, Woods has gone 0-18. (After winning your first 10-or-so majors, even second-place finishes count as losses.)
Woods had a chance to end the drought at last weekend’s PGA Championship in Rochester, N.Y., but he didn’t come close, finishing in a tie for 40th place.
With each disappointment, Wood’s quest to surpass Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major championships–which once seemed about as certain as a tap-in–becomes increasingly unlikely.
Only A Game analyst Charlie Pierce was at the Oak Hill Country Club over the weekend to watch Woods up close.
“Woods was never effervescent, even in the glorious heart of his young career,” Pierce wrote in a piece for Grantland, “but he didn’t look the way he does now, coming up the fairway toward the green like an aging farmer coming to work in fields he know are burnt and fallow but remembers with fondness and with pain the verdancy they once had.”
It was the closest Pierce had been to Woods since 1997. That’s the year Pierce penned a profile of Tiger – a 21-year-old cub at the time – for GQ that included anecdotes of Woods making crude jokes.
Even so, Pierce could not have predicted the impending scandal that came to surround Woods after the public learned of his extramarital affairs in 2009.
“I certainly wouldn’t have anticipated his sex life would turn out to be such a baroque, public carnival as it turned out to be,” Pierce told Only A Game’s Doug Tribou in a 2102 look back at Woods’ historic performance at the 1997 Masters.
Historic is, perhaps, an understatement.
In a four-day stretch in April 1997, Woods bounced back from a shaky start to finish 18-under and 12 strokes ahead of Tom Kite – both tournament records. At 21, he became the youngest winner ever and the first champion of African or Asian descent.
Woods went on to win the PGA Championship in 1999. He then won six majors in a stretch from 2000 to 2002 before accumulating another six from 2005 to his latest in 2008.
For much of that stretch, Woods was coached by Hank Haney, who wrote about his experience in his 2012 book, The Big Miss.
“He had this incredible drive,” Haney told Bill Littlefield in 2012. “The one thing that I observed about Tiger was that he was definitely different.”