If Tiger Woods wins the PGA Championship this weekend on The Ocean Course in Kiawah Island, S.C., they should put his given name on the trophy -- Eldrick.
There's been little "Tiger" in Woods since 2009 when an infidelity scandal brought him down from golf's Mount Olympus.
Oh, Woods has made a nice comeback this season, winning three tournaments on the PGA Tour, but he hasn't captured one of the four majors since the 2008 U.S. Open, and he remains a tantalizing four short of the all-time record of 18 majors by legendary Jack Nicklaus.
I don't think Woods will win many more majors until he reclaims the magic dust so available to him while garnering four each of the PGA Championship and the Masters and three each of the U.S. Open and the British Open. In Woods' prime, fellow competitor Rocco Mediate said of him, "This guy does things that are just not normal by any stretch of the imagination." He's in another world by himself."
Indeed, there are perhaps 500 golfers across the globe who look the same on a driving range with fluid swings to rocket the ball into another time zone. Physically and technically, little separates many of the pros, but Woods used to have an edge over the field mentally and emotionally.
Like Nicklaus before him, he seemed to will the ball into the hole with his mind. And he was aware that under pressure, the mind can kick in a golfer's fight-or-flight system from caveman days, in which the blood can leave the fingers and go to the big muscles to fight or run away.
"I get nervous before every shot," Woods once told me. He would get himself worked up when he needed the power for drives and long shots, then calm his mind and fingers for a better touch on the greens.
Emotionally, a pre-2009 Tiger often frightened his competitors into submission. Confidence was the biggest weapon in his golf bag.
Why hasn't Woods been able to recapture his dominance? Physically he's about the same, although he's had to overcome several injuries.
He doesn't say much about his scandal and recovery -- he never was one for in-depth media interviews. But his magic dust seems to have been taken away by the golfing gods since Woods fall from grace, and his confidence has obviously been rocked by the scandal and the ensuing defeats on the golf course in 2010 and 2011.
As well, his nerves under pressure don't seem to be what they used to be; in the past two seasons, he has not scored under par on a weekend in any of the majors. In the first three majors this season, Woods tied for third in the British Open, but didn't make the Top 20 in the Masters and the U.S. Open.
Sometimes, he chokes. Yes, folks, Superman can choke under pressure. Finally, he's like the rest of us.
Still, Woods' three victories this season give optimism. "I'm pleased with way I was able to play at times, but I'm disappointed I didn't win (a major) ," Woods said this week in a press conference. "Things have progressed, but still, not winning a major championship doesn't feel that good."
Interest in the PGA Tour has increased this season with his fine comeback. The fans, apparently wanting him to win more often, applaud him loud and long. The only thing Americans like better than seeing a superstar brought down is a superstar regaining his feet to make a big comeback.
Fans want to see a passionate player with personality, unlike the vast majority of the bland field these days, which includes talented but dull golfers such as World No. 1 Luke Donald of England, No. 3 Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and No. 10 Matt Kuchar of the U.S.
They can make a ball sing, but so can a pitching machine.
Another hint that Woods' bravado is not where is should be is that he now tips his cap to the fans after every hole, even if he's scored a double bogey. Since his return, he seems humbler, more Eldrick. I think he remains embarrassed about the scandal and the beating he took among the public and the media.
However, if Woods can continue to draw on that fan support, he may regain his confidence in the majors and win again. It's even possible he might catch Nicklaus. Woods is not a quitter, and at 37, he's not too old. Nicklaus won a major at 46 and Tom Watson nearly stole the British Open three years ago at age 59.
Bookies still believe in Woods. According to VegasInsider.com, he's the favorite to win this week at 13 to 2, followed by Donald and England's Lee Westwood at 15 to 1 and McIlroy at 20 to 1.
Hopefully for golf's sake, perhaps starting this week, Eldrick will become Tiger once more.
Michael Clarkson is a professional speaker, former PGA Tour writer, and author of several psychology books, including Pressure Golf. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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