Burning bright? Well… almost.
It had been a long time. So it had to be satisfying — and better than that — for Tiger Woods on Sunday. He had a shot. Drop a couple of putts and he would have won the tournament. Impossible to imagine what he must have been feeling. Making the turn and only one or two back.
I got this.
He had won, so often and so effortlessly, that it seemed a bit odd to be pulling for him as though he were the underdog — as you might have been for some scuffling kid, in his first year on the tour. But if there is anything that Tiger Woods had never been in his entire life it is… the underdog.
He was, perhaps, the most conspicuous overdog in sports for more than twenty years, at least. If it came to Sunday and he was wearing that red shirt, then the thing was in the bag. Tiger was taking home the trophy. But, then, there came the injuries. And there was the sex scandal. And the long drought when he simply did not play.
And talk, then, about his nerves. Did he have the dreaded “yips”? Questions about whether he would, indeed, ever play again. The flame had, after all, burned so bright.
It was, I suppose, easy for a certain sort of angry, bitter fan to take a kind of satisfaction in Wood’s travails. Stars from the sporting world are easy to hate. The more gifted they are, the more tempting to despise them. Some of this is simple envy, of course, and then … resentment about the injustice and unfairness of life. Over the fact that they should be endowed with such incomparable gifts. It seems so unjust…
And, then, it seems the more we know about sports heroes, the less likable they are.
Ted Williams was a hero on the baseball field and as Marine pilot. But he was not a lovely man.
Nor is Tiger Woods. But he is a supporter of the American military. HIs father served in Army Special Forces so this is, in some sense, understandable. But the son’s respect is serious and praiseworthy. He is, to a certain segment of the population, “one of us.”
But that isn’t what makes him so appealing as an athlete.
It is that drive. That complete and utter determination. What is called, lazily, that “killer instinct.”
Golf isn’t like the other sports competitions. The players aren’t going “head-to-head.” They are playing inside their own heads. They are competing with the golf course, the game, and themselves. The tournaments last four days. Each round goes for more than four hours. The courses stretch out for more than 7,000 yards. The weather changes. The crowds become noisy and distracting…
There are reasons and temptations — many of them — to phone it in. Excuses for missing the cut and getting out of town before the weekend.
Woods doesn’t do that. He almost never misses a cut. His fans are, no doubt, aware of this and think to themselves, “You know, if I did my job, the way, he does his, I’d be VP by how. Maybe even CEO.”
Players all around him were wilting yesterday. One merely needed a two putt on the 18th green to force a playoff. He hit it short and the ball rolled back, all the way to his feet.
He three putted.
You thought, as you watched, that Tiger might lose but never like that. Not because he left it short.
As professional sports go, golf is unusual in that it leaves you with so few stars to celebrate and root for. There are too many beautifully groomed and trained country-club kids. Perfect swings and perfect teeth. None with the wit to make the fans among us love them or care about what they do.
And then … there is Tiger in whom the competitive fire still burns exceedingly bright.
In a couple of weeks, he will be teeing it up at the Masters in Augusta. You could, I suppose, get all political about it but, then, it is just a golf tournament and Tiger Woods won’t be the only great golfer in the field.
But on the first day, he will be the player everyone is watching.
And the one many of us are pulling for.