In this excerpt from “Slaying the Tiger,” Shane Ryan recounts watching Tiger Woods during the The Cadillac Championship in 2014. Ryan says it was “like watching the final act of a legend.”
Doral, Florida, is a charmless, monotonous lump of a city that blends in my memory with the rest of Florida, but Donald Trump’s Blue Monster course isn’t half bad.
It’s a difficult track, with lots of water and a wide diversity of trees — bischofias, java plums, oaks, strangler figs with their veiny, intertwined trunks, and palms everywhere — and as you make your way down the attractive fairways, you can almost forget that you’re in the middle of a suburban hellscape.
As it happened, Tiger had bigger problems that afternoon than his unwanted protégé — he could barely cope with himself.
Off the first tee, Tiger yanked his drive to the right and took out an unsuspecting German tourist with a direct hit to the head. You could hear the cries ahead, and by the time I hustled up to the scene of the carnage, he was an awful bloody mess — his white shirt stained red, bloody rags littering the ground around him, and no medic in sight.
He was curled up on himself, and Tiger walked over and pretended to be sympathetic as he counted the moments until he could continue his round and let actual trained professionals do their job.
“I’m sorry about that,” he said, shades still on, as the man rocked back and forth in a daze. Tiger gave him a signed glove and moved on.
It sounds convenient to say this now, but I swear I could feel Tiger’s power ebbing with each hole.
After his Sunday withdrawal a week earlier, the chinks in his armour had grown suddenly visible, widening with alarming speed until you looked at him and could see only vulnerability.
He wasn’t alone. There were other signs of generational change, too — on Friday, Phil Mickelson made three straight double bogeys, and after the round, when Golf Channel’s Jason Sobel asked him when he’d last had a stretch that bad, he snapped back with, “Four hours ago.” Even Jim Furyk, the ageless wonder, had opened with 78-77-75 to fade to the bottom of the leaderboard.
I knew I had to stay with Tiger, at least for nine holes, to watch this bizarre scene play out. It didn’t take long — on the third, his drive hooked left, back into the gallery, and hit another spectator just below his jaw. Unlike the bleeding German, this victim — maybe twenty years old, American, male — couldn’t have been more pleased at the new throbbing bump on the side of his neck.
Tiger, who by now was running perilously low on gloves, signed another and gave it away. “Can I get a pic?” the kid asked, but that was more than Tiger was willing to abide. He stalked away from the gallery, his round going to shit, and promptly smashed his next shot into the water.
It got worse from there, although he managed to spare his fans any more violence. He re-aggravated his back injury while hitting out of a bunker on six, suffered spasms throughout the rest of his round, and limped in with a 78, falling to 25th place.
He left Doral that day and spent the next weeks trying to rest and get ready for the Masters. Gradually, though, the pain from the nerve impingement got worse — he experienced shooting sensations down his leg, as well as numbness in the extremities, and in the end it was difficult to even get out of bed.
Tiger is a stubborn man, but even he realised that this back problem wasn’t going away. He was left with no choice — he opted for a microdisectomy on the last day of March. It was the same surgery Graham DeLaet, a much younger man, had undergone in 2011.
DeLaet didn’t start hitting balls for four months, and it took him a year to fully recover. Woods, on the other hand, couldn’t make himself wait three months before he was playing competitive rounds, and he paid the price for his haste — the rest of his year was a disaster, and cast serious doubt as to whether he could ever return to his previous form.
Tiger would be back, and maybe one day he’ll rediscover his greatness, but that Sunday at Trump National, it felt like we were watching the final act of a legend.
Excerpted from “Slaying the Tiger” by Shane Ryan Copyright © 2015 by Shane Ryan. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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