Commentary

Is Tiger's reign over? Absolutely not

Originally Published: August 18, 2009
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

I've got some bad news for the people celebrating Tiger Woods' loss at the PGA Championship, who insist he choked, who say this marks the official beginning of the end of his golf dominance:

He's not going anywhere.

"For someone to step up and take over his position and beat him routinely and beat everybody routinely by multiple shots, I don't see it," said Stewart Cink, no slouch with an Open Championship of his own. "I don't see it out there."

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods & Y.E. Yang
AP PhotoTiger didn't win a major this year, but he still has had an incredible season.

Cink isn't ripping the rest of the tour. He speaks the truth. When Woods is on his game, nobody can beat him. And when Woods isn't on his game -- like Sunday, when he and his putter weren't on speaking terms -- he still almost forced a playoff.

"I don't think he had a poor game," said Y.E. Yang after the win. "But I'm just glad that he had one of those off days."

An "off day" isn't a choke. Did Woods' game suffer some oxygen loss during the final round? Absolutely. And if I had to do it all over again, would I guarantee a Tiger victory on Saturday night? Absolutely. In less than a heartbeat. Or put it this way: Did you pick Yang to win your PGA Championship office pool?

Yang over Woods was Villanova over Georgetown in the 1985 Final Four; it was the Tampa Bay Rays over the Boston Red Sox in the 2008 ALCS; it was the New York Giants over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Those weren't chokes; they were losses. Big difference.

But to the e-mailers who are giddy that Woods was beaten, even humbled, by a semi-unknown, I say you're not alone. Here's guessing a few of Woods' fellow tour players were in the Hazeltine clubhouse happily rooting for the Yang upset. They're part of the ABT frat: Anyone But Tiger.

The anti-Woods faction is out there. They don't like him because he wins more than anyone else. Because he slams clubs, cusses like he's in a Quentin Tarantino film, and spits. Because the golf solar system revolves around Planet Tiger.

And let's not be naive, some people don't like him because he's not the color of their choice.

Woods isn't perfect, not even close. But on a golf course, nobody else can do what he does, when he does it, and how he does it. Just because Woods left Hazeltine National Golf Club without his fifth fire-hydrant-sized Wanamaker Trophy doesn't change that.

Woods was, for him, ordinary during Sunday's final round. More important, he was beatable. And yet, it took a Yang chip-in for eagle at the par-4 14th and a Heidi Klum-gorgeous second shot from 206 yards out on No. 18 to actually pull off the upset. That, and some mediocre putting from Woods.

But a choke? The guy has spent a career sealing the deal on Sundays of majors. He was 14-for-14 in majors when he led or had a share of the lead after 54 holes. But he drops to 14-for-15 and he's suddenly a choker? I know he didn't hold on to a two-stroke lead, but helloooooo, Yang tied for the lowest round of the day.

So Woods lost. It's happened before. It will happen again. Granted, it has never happened with Woods atop a major leaderboard going into the final round, but he'll recover. He always does.

"I think he's the strongest man, mentally speaking, in the field for sure," said Alvaro Quiros of Spain, whose length off the tee impressed even Woods. "I think he's No. 1 by far, I have to say. Even everyone telling right now that Tiger is not the same Tiger of five years ago, but I still think he's the one, he's the best by far. He's the only thing that matters. His strength is the mental thing."

And this from Woods' former Ryder Cup captain, Tom Lehman: "He has that rare combination of everything. He's not lacking anything. That's the difficulty. There's very, very few people in sports of any kind that are such a complete player. There's usually some kind of a weakness somewhere, but he doesn't have any. He's just that much better."

That's not me talking, that's a former British Open champion. So if Lehman, Cink and Quiros aren't writing an obituary for Woods' golf skills, why should you? Answer: You shouldn't.

Like it or not, Woods has no true peer. Yang crashed the party at the PGA -- and deserves to have his name on that trophy -- but he isn't going to challenge Woods on a weekly basis. Woods' opponent is himself, and those 18 major titles held by Jack Nicklaus.

Woods is 33 years old, his left knee doesn't hurt anymore, and he's five major wins from passing the Golden Bear. Next year, three of those majors are played at three of his favorite courses: Augusta National, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews. If he takes the majors collar in 2010, then you can start questioning his dominance. Until then, he remains the best player on earth.

"It would be interesting to see what golf would be like without him," said Graeme McDowell, who finished tied for 10th at the PGA. "Like I say, major championships would be easier to come by. Most events would be easier to come by … yeah, you know, would we prefer not to have him in the field? Probably."

With Woods in the field, CBS' final-round ratings for the PGA Championship were 150 percent higher than last year's numbers. No surprise there -- Woods was home in a knee brace last August.

"I see myself as very lucky to be playing golf in the Tiger era," said McDowell. "We're lucky to have him."

Even without a major victory this season, Woods has five tour wins, is No. 1 in the world rankings, No. 1 on the money list, No. 1 on the FedEx Cup points list, No. 1 in top-10 finishes, and No. 1 in scoring average.

Not bad for a washed-up choker.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

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