BY CLAY ABLES | BALL STATE SPORTS LINK
In my short 20 years on this planet, I’ve been a sports fan for about 19 of them. Year one I was pretty busy with the whole walking thing.
In the 19 years of watching the greatest athletes in the world display their physical gifts, eight figures were so transcendent that even your friends who didn’t watch sports knew who they were. All can be identified by a single name:
Peyton. Kobe. Lebron. Phelps. Tebow. Shaq. Lance. Tiger.
I thought about throwing Federer in that group, but there’s still a section wouldn’t know who he is.
Everyone on the list is an absolute rockstar. They were — and still are in many respects — as large, if not larger than the sport they played. But Tiger Woods stands above the rest, and it’s a grand canyon-cliff drop to whoever is number two.
The word “iconic” doesn’t have enough stature to define how big Tiger was, and still is, to a lesser extent.
When somebody said the word Tiger at any point in the 2000s, you had overwhelming visions flashing through your brain. And one thought was married with the visions.
He exceeded everything we’ve ever seen on a field of competition.
Tiger only played against the course, the players against him were as relevant as the sand traps. Physically they were on the same course, but Woods was mentally on a different level.
We watched Tiger, not golf.
His impact on golf television is colossal. According to the Nielson ratings, golf viewership is 50 percent higher when Tiger is playing. To quantify that to other icons I mentioned, only Lance could moved the needle more than 20 percent.
People still watch the NBA without Shaq and Kobe, the NFL is king and master of being a team-marketed sport and Phelps only holds the Olympics. Nobody has ever stopped you in the office or on the street and said “Hey, did you see Phelps in the World Aquatic Championships, last night?”
Tiger and Michael Jordan are in their own class above the rest. They are the only two athletes in last 30 years who controlled a major sport and the branding outside of it. Gatorade and Nike have created millions of jobs around the world on the backs of Tiger and Jordan.
Put away his impact off the course and just focus on the game. He was robotic, yet emotional. Bombing drives with delicate touch. Laser focused and charismatic. America’s golden boy with an edge. Domination with class. As I think all of these and punch them into a computer, I have one overlying thought.
How should I feel about Tiger?
Since that infamous wreck on Thanksgiving of 2009, Tiger has been impossible to put into context. At first we were repulsed by his actions of infidelity, but we all assumed as time would pass his winning would re-shelter his image and legacy.
The opposite has occurred. Woods’ golf game has gone through a midlife crisis.
At first when it hit, he contained himself very well. The first event he played post scandal, he finished tied for fourth at The Masters. One of the greatest sports performances ever. Underrated doesn’t begin to describe how a guy can take over six months off from professional sports and comeback to be one of the best on the Super Bowl-stage of golf.
Then, like many midlife crises, it gets bad. Tiger went flying down the leaderboard like a 43-year old with a new convertible on a country road. He went 107 weeks without a win.
For most golfers, that’s normal, but for Woods it was the crashing of his universe. Although not funnel cake bad.
Once the streak was snapped in December of 2011, Tiger was still not back. He was shaky, especially on the psychological side. His massive mental advantage — his edge — was gone.
His presence in his prime was one of fear by the opponent. By this point he became the target. Young guys like Rory Mcllroy, Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson were coming onto the scene and weren’t backing down to Tiger.
This continued until the middle of 2012 when he slowly came back with a couple of wins, like the stage of middle life crisis where you return the convertible for your Honda.
In 2013, Tiger found himself again. He wasn’t 2006 Tiger, but he was 70 percent of the robot. He racked up five wins, three out of his first five appearances. He was rolling and made shots like this:
After a fourth-place finish at Augusta and a sixth place at The British Open, the only variable remaining was literal time before Tiger began his climb back to top to Jack’s 18 majors.
The variable is still remaining.
Since 2013, Tiger has been disastrous. He’s missed tournaments, cuts, short putts and anything else golf related except for fans near the rough.
He hasn’t picked up a golf club competitively in over a year now. Currently he’s out of top 500 in world golf rankings and has been slapped around publicly more than ever.
Announcers such as Johnny Miller say he was never convinced, when hearing of Tiger coming back this season. Miller clearly had his reasons, as Tiger now has delayed his comeback until December.
The scary part was his reasoning for not returning at the Safeway Open. He used the word “vulnerable” in describing the nature of the game of golf, and the reason he’s easing his way back in. Not his nagging back.
When you hear the word vulnerable from Tiger, it nearly doesn’t register. This is the robot. The f-bomb dropping, club throwing, fist pumping, killer I’ve grown up with.
But that’s not him anymore. He’s not Tiger. He’s civilized. The fire and facade is gone, and he’s just another guy. After that scandal he’s become human, thankfully.
Not just for golfers, but for his family. It seems as if Tiger’s only concern now is health and making sure his kids have a father. Which is great in the grand scheme of life.
As a fan, it saddens me. I want that guy back. He was our Jordan, not Kobe.
Usually I have a take on a story when I write it. This one, I’m lost. All I have is questions and no answers. The biggest one is how should we feel?
We all bash Tiger today, but should we? He’s the greatest to ever play golf — and in his prime — the best at any sport period.
Nobody dominated a sport like Tiger.
So I sit back and think now, should I be enraged? Should I be mad at this guy for letting his personal life ruin his professional greatness? He could’ve won 25 majors, owned every record, produced more highlight reels and been sports greatest icon.
But he’s not Ryan Leaf. He reached his peak. He was the greatest. But we didn’t get enough.
We were robbed. We were watching the greatest movie of all time and then suddenly the film cut out.
Do we still clap for two hours and 10 minutes of greatness? Or do we sulk in missing the last 20 minutes?