Monday, December 6, 2010

Consider Me a Tiger Woods Fan

In case you missed it over the weekend, Tiger Woods nearly won the Chevron World Challenge.  Had he been able to hold the 3 shot lead he had over Graeme Mcdowell coming into Sunday, it would have been Tiger, instead of Ben Roethlisberger, who grabbed all the headlines this morning.  Going into the 18th hole, Tiger held tightly to a 1 shot lead.  It took McDowell draining a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th to force Tiger into a playoff, and a 25-footer shortly after for McDowell to finish Tiger off.

I didn't catch the final round because I was busy watching the NFL.  Generally, given the choice between listening to Jim Nantz wax poetic about a bunch of rich white guys (and Tiger) prancing around a golf course in douchey sweaters, or getting kicked in the nads repeatedly, I'll choose the latter.  Thats because, for the past 12 months, golf has been absolutely brutal to watch. 

As is the case for a lot of sports fans, I haven't always felt this way about the sport of golf.  During the height of Tiger's dominance, I was as enthralled with the saga as the rest of the sports world.  I would tune in to most televised PGA events on Sunday afternoons just to watch the leaderboard and see how Tiger was faring.  Sometimes I was cheering for him, most of the time against him.  But I was always in awe of the things he could do and the ease with which he seemed to do them. 

As we all know, it was last Thanksgiving that Tiger's life fell apart.  The guy with the squeaky clean image had been leading a secret lifestyle that we were all unaware of.  In a sports landscape filled with ex-gangbangers and thugs, Tiger was the man who we had all held up as a beacon of moral perfection.  That man has been gone since Thanksgiving last year, the fallen victim of his earthly desires to bang waffle-house waitresses and trailer-whores ... ... ...

And thus began Tiger's fall from grace.  He had committed the ultimate crime - not adultery, that would have been fine (see: Brad Pitt).  Tiger had deceived the American public, and that would not stand! 

In a moment's notice, every sportswriter in this country was up in arms, doing their part to bring down the man they had spent years building into a myth.  Tiger went into hiding, taking time to pick up the remnants of the perfect life he had built - and subsequently destroyed.  Tiger sitings have been few and far between over the past year, and even when he was on the links in 2010, Tiger wasn't the same.  He just didn't have the same focus, the same dominance that we were accustomed to. 

In Tiger's absence, golf has lost viewers like me.  There have been great performances, but nothing nearly as consistent as Tiger over the past few years.  The sport doesn't have any star power, no dominant player, no standouts.  The guy who could have capitalized on Tiger's absence, Phil Mickelson, didn't.  Mickelson missed out on a perfect opportunity to take the reigns of world golf.  To put it bluntly, he choked.  Lee Westwood had a great year, surplanting Tiger as the World's #1 player, yet the average sports fan can't identify him.  And no matter how much ESPN and CBS try to push him, Rory McIlroy isn't going to drive viewers to watch golf.  Americans just won't cheer for a European with hair that runs down below his shoulders.

So for the past several months I have been operating under the assumption that professional golf was going to be dead to me for a while, at least until Tiger could get his life back together.  I suspected it would take a few more months for him to get used to being the villain, to get comfortable in his new skin, and to get re-focused on golf.  I thought that it would at least be until the middle of next season. 

So imagine my surprise when I turned on CBS to find Tiger Woods atop the leaderboard of the Chevron World Challenge on Saturday, looking for his first win in a year that saw him go from the apex of the sports world to the basement.  I was glued to the t.v., cheering for Tiger the same way I had cheered against him in his prime.  He looked refocused, like he was giving the finger to all the people who had turned their backs on him in the past year.  Tiger was playing good golf again - hitting fairways, making putts.  The old Tiger was back, for one tournament at least.

Here's to hoping we see some more of Tiger's brilliance soon.