Was there ever any doubt?
Mar 27, 2012 / 5:00 am
It was 2 years, 6 months and 12 days between victories on the PGA Tour for He Who Once Was Eldrick. It has been a tumultuous time of personal upheaval, of professional re-evaluation and restructuring and for a man whose addiction to perfection, to fitness and to winning on the links of the world has been second to none over the last 20 years, it has been torturous frustration. The once unbeatable front-runner has watched his marriage dissolve in the tabloids amidst a flurry of club hostesses, exotic dancers and Perkins waitresses; has publicly feuded and split with long-time caddy Stevie “The Mouth” Williams; and is currently enjoying a media feeding frenzy over the contents of one time swing coach Hank Haney’s new tell-all “The Big Miss". And yet, on Sunday, March 25th with the Masters a mere 2 weeks away, Tiger Woods calmly, with the smile of the Cheshire Cat who just ate a canary, tapped in a par putt on the 72nd hole of the Arnold Palmer Invitational to become the King’s Champion for the 7th time. Was there ever any doubt?
Once one gets done realizing that the top of the trophy looks as though Tiger just won the “C Flight” Match-play Club Championship at the local municipal – yeah I know it’s Arnie but how many trophy tops just like that are cluttering up attics and pawn shops between here and Orlando – one can then find time to focus on the 5-shot victory. Truth be told, on Sunday, he was rarely challenged as Graeme McDowell doubled the 1st to give Tiger a 3-shot cushion, which despite an admitted case of nerves, the former World #1 was able to build on and coast home. Whew… well that was exhausting, so let’s pull down the Press Tent, pack up your Smith-Corona typewriters and with a disappointed Oscar Madison grumble at the unfairness of it all, head for the exits and next week’s PGA stop in Houston. Uh no… not so fast Lone Ranger, searcher of the Sports Pulitzer – before you head north out of town on the Florida Turnpike bound for Humble, Texas (how perfectly ironic!) I request a short piece explaining what an absolutely delusional jackhammer you have been about El Tigre, the state of his game, his ‘comeback’ and how the world of golf will get along just fine, should the middle-aged Mr. Woods decide to devote some full-time effort to his Navy SEAL training. No need for names here, you all know who you are and not surprisingly so does he of the Jungle Cat nickname. If one is to believe such noted golf authors as John Feinstein and Alex Miceli, it seems the larger felines are also known for holding a grudge.
While time spent in the barren victory-less wilderness seems to be a rite of passage to the Mount Rushmore of golf – just ask Hogan and Nicklaus as the most noted examples – the constant barrage of insult laden pseudo-journalism which suggested Tiger would be unable to return to the winner’s circle for personal, health or G-O-L-F related reasons was tougher to stomach than a midnight 7/11 hotdog. I have often re-iterated that I refuse to be a TW apologist – he made several beds and chose whom to lie in them with and has suffered emotionally and financially for those decisions. Sure, I judge him for that… if I don’t then I don’t have the right to judge that bigoted, pill-popping cartoon freak talk radio host Rush Limbaugh and I need to judge that pariah of the airwaves. Where the detractors have gone wrong in their evaluations of TW is in failing to understand what drives the engine. While his single-mindedness and arrogance may very well have been the contributing factors which ultimately led to the dissolution of his marriage, they are also the points of character which all great athletes share. For 2 ½ years we watched him publicly struggle on the links, stripped of all the familiar support systems, testing, tweaking, often flailing and failing in front of international TV audiences, cautiously reminding us each time that he was getting closer. At times he has looked as uncomfortable as Michael Jordan at the plate, both on the golf course and strapped in the chair at event pressers but he stoically maintained that, while he may never be the Tiger of 2000 again, a new version of the machine would soon be available for our perusal. Preferably one without an affinity for 2 a.m. fire hydrants.
When it comes to our sports heroes, we as Fans tend to suffer from short-term memory loss and this is undoubtedly for the best. In the early post-Elin era the blogosphere was filled with self-righteous, often ‘Christian moral’, sometimes racially motivated hatred-spewing trolls who felt it was their civic duty to verbally fire-hose the man who only days earlier had patrolled the fairways as one of the best athletes of our generation. Such is the nature of Modern Hero Worship – build ‘em up, knock ‘em down and then when we have extracted our requisite pound of flesh, build ‘em up again on the unsaid understanding that they never again stray outside the boundaries of our lofty moral standards. Whether this is short term memory loss or the more arrogant ‘forgiveness’, it allows us to once again grab the placards and crayons and follow the man who changed the landscape of the sport like nobody has since Palmer brought golf to the TV viewer.
I can safely say that this was the first week…ever… that I actually rooted for TW, because contrary to all the idle chatter, golf needs Woods to represent the pinnacle for the younger generation to strive for in the sport. His re-ascension into the Top 10 in the World Rankings serves notice that he is not ready to slink idly away into that good night and allow the pretenders to his once-untouchable throne juggle the #1 ranking like electric chainshaws at an America’s Got Talent audition. I can now return to my comfort zone of cheering for everyone not named Woods – not for anything he’s done, or who he is – I just really pull for the underdog. Until next we tee it up Kelowna…
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