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Tiger Woods Steps Away From Golf Amid Terrible Season

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Tiger Woods is out - again. The world's most famous golfer has been terrible this year. He's currently ranked 62nd in the world, which is his lowest since joining the PGA Tour nearly 20 years ago. So the 39-year-old Woods announced on his website yesterday that he is taking time off to work on his game. He wrote this, (reading)

I enter a tournament to compete at the highest level and when I think I'm ready, I'll be back.

But, what will Tiger Woods be when he comes back? For that we turn now to Ron Sirak, who is senior writer for Golf Digest.

Welcome back.

RON SIRAK: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: When we say Tiger Woods has been terrible this year, just what does that mean? How bad has he been?

SIRAK: Well, the first tournament he played he missed the cut in, and the second tournament he played he withdrew after 11 holes of the first round. This is a guy who won a U.S. Open in 2008 playing essentially on a broken leg. For him to be either too hurt or too discouraged to go on is really alarming.

SIEGEL: Missing the cut would mean that on the Thursday and Friday of a tournament, he did so poorly that he didn't qualify to stick around for Saturday and Sunday.

SIRAK: Yeah, and that's a phenomenon that in his 20 years as a pro has happened maybe a half-dozen times.

SIEGEL: And you're saying that the injuries that he now has are not commensurate with the drop in the quality of his play?

SIRAK: I think he's got a perfect storm of things challenging him right now. There's physical, there's technical and there's mental problems in there. Yeah, he had surgery on his back last year. He's had four surgeries on his left knee. He's 39 years old, but an old 39 because he's been playing competitive golf a long time. But he also has some swing flaws and, you know, he's not been the same golfer since the scandal broke Thanksgiving 2009.

SIEGEL: So which is the truer statement - Tiger Woods is the most talented, best golfer in the world who's been going through a really bad stretch for a few years, or Tiger Woods is a guy who used to be the greatest golfer in the world?

SIRAK: I think the latter. I think he's a guy who used to be not only the greatest golfer in the world, but on the extremely short list of the greatest ever to play the game. Now, the question then becomes can a 39-year-old Tiger Woods ever again play like the 24-year-old Tiger Woods? And we've seen very few athletes in any sport be able to pull that off.

SIEGEL: Is there anyone - it's not as though Tiger Woods hasn't changed swing coaches over the years and - or caddies who give him advice on the course. Is there somebody out there who might be able to tell him something or do something for him that could bring him back?

SIRAK: You know, Robert, the only person that ever had that influence on him was his father Earl, who died in 2006. And, you know, was sort of the binding rod that kept Tiger on his professional path. And if I were to give him advice, it would be go back to being a kid again and try to just play the game in the fun, carefree way you used to play it.

SIEGEL: Would you say that the competition in the PGA Tour that Woods plays against these days is significantly better, worse or about the same as it was 15 years ago?

SIRAK: I think Tiger Woods - part of his legacy is going to be he's attracted a better quality of athlete to golf. So the talent pool is much, much deeper. This entire generation, they haven't really seen the guy - the guy who I saw in the year 2000 psychologically destroyed an entire generation of golfers because they knew if he had his A-game, they couldn't beat him. So these young kids are not only more talented than ever, but they're going out there without fear in their heart.

SIEGEL: Ron Sirak of Golf Digest, thanks for talking with us.

SIRAK: Thanks for having me, my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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