The Breakdown | Explaining Southern California's economy

The Tiger Woods theory of the economy

Tiger Woods' halting comeback mirrors the struggles of the U.S. economy.
Tiger Woods' halting comeback mirrors the struggles of the U.S. economy.
Robert Laberge/Getty Images

There's a remarkable spectacle happening in Northern California right now: Tiger Woods is playing a regular PGA Tour event in the month of October.

But wait, you say, he's a golfer — isn't he supposed to play golf? Well, sure. But he failed to qualify for the season-ending FedEx Cup playoffs, and because he's been variously injured and working on changes to his golf swing, he hasn't played much in 2011. But he is on the Presidents Cup team, so he needs to get himself into competitive shape for the event in November.

Woods' is a member of a professional golf elite that has won so often that it doesn't need to grind out a schedule like the rank-and-file. That's why he's been absent from Tour events at this time of year for a decade.

He's not playing particularly well, but he's drawing plenty of scrutiny. His performance reminds me of the economy. Both have been mired in a ditch on the comeback trail for what seems like an eternity. 

There have been occasional flashes of the old Tiger — he contended for the Masters back in the spring — just as the economy has shown bursts of its old self. Earlier this year, it looked as if we might see 3-4 GDP growth and unemployment falling to 7 percent. Didn't happen, as in succession the Japanese earthquake wrecked the global supply chain; the Arab Spring caused oil prices to spike; a debt-ceiling debate kicked up in Washington; and the Eurozone faced an unprecedented debt crisis. 

The economy has begun to look as fragile as Tiger's surgically repaired knee.

Now both the economy and Woods are month-to-month. Tigerologists fret when the Striped One starts missing fairways with his drives and making bogeys with his putter. He said he was finally starting to play better! What gives?

Economists ponder monthly jobs and economic output data as if they're assembling a particularly uncooperative jigsaw puzzle. I thought those 63 pieces looked like blue sky! But in turns out they were the bottom of the ocean...

The lesson here is actually a simple one. Woods blew up his private and professional life. It's going to take him a few years to regain form. But given his talent, there's a far better than average chance that he will.

The economy was completely trashed by a credit crisis. These usually take 5-7 years to fix. It's been three.

The trick here is to trust that Woods knows what he's doing. He didn't win 14 golf majors and 71 times on the PGA Tour because he doesn't.

The U.S. economy is worth some faith, as well. It didn't grow to $14.5 trillion and provide a per capita GDP of almost $50,000 per year because it can't climb out of a rut. 

In each case, we may just need to exercise a lot more patience than we have in the past.

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Photo: Robert Laberge/Getty Images Sports