LONDON (Reuters) - Next season is likely to be a ‘make or break’ year for 14-times major winner Tiger Woods, according to former world number one Nick Faldo.
Woods turns 40 next month and is battling to recover from a follow-up procedure on his back that he underwent in October, a month after having had surgery for the second time in a year and a half.
The American has slumped from number one to 384th in the world in the last year and a half and Faldo doubts that he can climb the mountain again.
“He’s got to physically get strong enough to practise hard enough to find his game again, try to compete again and then try to win again,” the 58-year-old Englishman told Reuters in an interview.
“Who knows? It might be the end of the road for Tiger in a way. The hardest thing is, how determined can he be to come back?
“If he has another season like this one, mixed with poor play and injuries, what decisions will he make? If it was me, how can you pick it up?”
Faldo said Woods had simply been overtaken by the ‘New Big Three’ of American Jordan Spieth, Jason Day of Australia and Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy.
“When you are an athlete and you’ve had your time, you should be praised for that,” added the winner of the 1987, 1990 and 1992 British Open and the 1989, 1990 and 1996 Masters.
“What Tiger’s done for our game has been unbelievable but it’s going to tail off one day because you physically can’t run, jump and chuck it like you used to.
“We’ve got to acknowledge what he did for the sport but it’s a new generation now,” Faldo said as he launched a range of wines from six of Europe’s classic regions to celebrate each of his major victories (www.miltonsandfordwines.com).
“It’s a huge, tall order for Tiger to get into the mix now.”
Faldo, who now works as a golf analyst on television in the United States, believes Woods needs to overcome more mental barriers than physical ones when he makes his comeback.
“I’d say the problem now is a nerve factor,” he said. “I’ve watched him closely and I feel he’s got a couple of demons sitting on his shoulders now.
“He hasn’t got the confidence to hit the driver how he used to. Now it’s going either way and that’s huge.
“If he stands on the practice range and hits it straight and then walks to the first tee and hits it like this,” said Faldo, motioning left and right with his hands, “then it’s, ‘Whoa, hang on a minute.’
“That’s not physical, that’s not technical, that’s the shortest distance,” added Faldo, pointing to his head.
While the Englishman was less than optimistic about Woods’ prospects, he felt altogether differently about McIlroy.
The 26-year-old Northern Irishman has been eclipsed this season by Masters and U.S. Open champion Spieth and PGA Championship winner Day but 2016 could be a different story, according to Faldo.
“It will really motivate Rory,” he said. “Rory loves the limelight and he wants to be world number one again.
“He doesn’t like the fact that these two other guys went, ‘whoosh’ past him because of his injury so he’ll be gearing up big time for next season.”
McIlroy’s campaign was hampered by an ankle ligament problem he sustained in mid-season while playing a friendly game of soccer and Faldo offered the four-times major winner a few words of advice.
“You’ve got to look after yourself,” he said. “You’re an athlete, you have a window of opportunity. It doesn’t mean you’ve got to put yourself in cotton wool but some things you’ve just got to think twice about.
“Your priority is to do everything right to be a golfer for the time you are out there. Once it’s over, hopefully you’ve got 50 more years of the rest of your life to enjoy what you did as an athlete for 20 years.”
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes