4 Golfers Who Can Sabotage Tiger’s Return

Source: Keith Allison / Flickr

Tiger Woods is off to a rough start this year. The worst start he’s had as a professional, actually, coming in 80th at the Farmers Insurance Open and struggling during the first two days of the Honda Classic. As of this writing, Woods stands tied in 71st at the tournament, which is taking place Friday and through the weekend.

Woods, 38, stands second all-time in PGA Tour wins with 79 and second in majors victories with 14, and has accumulated the largest purse from golf winnings in the history of the sport. He is currently ranked at the top of the World Golf Rankings with an average score of 10.2, but his 2014 season has hardly been as dominant as that number would suggest. Or perhaps he’s only faltering in light of his past accomplishments.

Time makes a mockery of us all and such. Woods still remains a major media fixture and fan draw, as this news report on the opening day of the tournament revealed:

If Tiger is to reascend to the top of the green in song as well as spirit, he’s going to have to get past his demons. If not, there are other names ready for their slices of history who will make the most of Tiger’s potential missteps. These are the four horsemen of the Tigerpocalypse.

Source: Ed (supergolfdude) / Flickr

1. Rory McIlroy

McIlroy, the 24-year-old golfer out of Northern Ireland, currently leads the Honda Classic after two rounds, going 7-under for a score of 63 in Round 1 and 4-under for a 66 in the second. Rory, who famously bailed on the same tournament last year, in 2013, after falling victim to a sore wisdom tooth, has been nicknamed the “Boy Wonder” by the press. While McIlroy hasn’t won a PGA tournament since 2012, he did do a Nike Commercial with Woods to start off the 2013 season:

This is important, because like Woods, McIlroy has had a very financially friendly relationship with the shoe and apparel company — reportedly worth $20 million a year – and the Boy Wonder’s deal is significantly larger than the one that Woods received from Nike early in his career.

More than any other golfer at the Honda Classic or in the rest of the PGA, McIlroy represents the next big wunderkind that Tiger was, once upon a time. He currently sits in the eighth spot of the OGWR, with an average score of 5.9 points. McIlroy leads the Honda Classic with 13 birdies.

Source: Keith Allison / Flickr

2. Zach Johnson

Johnson, Tiger’s playing partner, is making Woods look silly so far. At the end of the first round, despite shooting an ugly quadruple-bogey on hole 11, Johnson finished the first round 3-under with a 67, four ahead of Wood’s score and just two behind McIlroy. As of this writing, he had not begun his second round. Over his career, Johnson has 11 PGA Tour wins, including one Masters victory in 2007.

This is not the only time that Woods and Johnson have been linked over Tiger’s declining game. In December, Golf.com dissected the differences between the two players after Johnson came back from a four-shot deficit to beat Tiger in the World Championship to close out 2013. Woods famously missed a 4- or 5-foot putt that would’ve sealed the victory.

Described in that video as “so underrated he’s not even underrated anymore,” Johnson is currently tied for 19th place in the Honda Classic with the second round underway. He is ranked at No. 6 in the OWGR rankings with an average score of 6.0.

Source: Steve Newton / Flickr

3. Lee Westwood

The most consistent Englishman in golf, Lee Westwood — who has won every major tournament on every continent on Earth (save Antarctica) and famously dethroned Tiger from the No. 1 ranking back in 2010 — has had a tremendous pair of rounds, going 2-under in the first with a score of 68 and shooting 5-under through 16 holes in the second round, which should help keep him in second to McIlroy.

At 40, Westwood is one of Tiger’s contemporaries, and the two golfers have often seen each other’s names hovering on tournament leader boards. Last year, at the 2013 Open Championships, Westwood held a two-stroke lead over Woods and Phil Mickleson after 54 holes but was unable to secure a victory, as he ended up taking third with a +1 to Mickleson’s 3-under. Woods would finish in sixth with a 2-over.

Westwood, who is currently ranked 35th on the OWGR with a 3.15, told the New York Times last year that he was satisfied with his career and his play, and that along with the knowledge that he can hang with anyone at his best, his personal philosophy circled around the question, “Why not enjoy it out there?”

Source: Familymwr / Flickr

4. Rory Sabbatini

Sabbatini, who won the most memorable tournament of his career at the Honda Classic back in 2011, is another one of Tiger’s contemporaries who has stormed out to an early edge on the most famous golfer of the 21st century. Rory’s 5-under first round was good enough to land him in third place with a 65, just two behind the other Rory’s 63. Sabbatini, who hadn’t begun his second round at the time of this writing, will need to have a 6-under second round in order to meet McIlroy’s 129 over two days.

Sabbatini has had problems with his temper in the past, and he was the youngest player in the PGA when he joined the tour in 1999. He famously won the 2011 Honda Classic by one stroke over Y.E. Yang. and equally famously played past his partner, Ben Crane, in 2005, causing a bit of a scene. Sabbatini has been suggesting that Woods was beatable since the 2007 Wachovia Cup. He is currently ranked 138th in the OWGR, with an average score of 1.1. He sits 73 spots above Tiger in the 2014 Honda Classic as of this writing.

More From Wall St. Cheat Sheet: