It has been almost 6 years since Tiger Woods last won a major championship. In those 6 years he has played 18 majors and failed to win a single one. While he is a four-time Masters champion, he hasn’t won at Augusta National in nine years. Ever since his personal life blew up, he hasn’t been the same. Now, even on his best day, he seems to only be a shadow of the “old Tiger.” He has also been plagued by back spasms that forced him to withdraw from the Honda Classic and now from Arnold Palmer’s tournament at Bay Hill. And despite all of those things, when Tiger Woods steps up to the first tee box in a few weeks at Augusta National, I will have no doubt that he will win the tournament.
Tiger Woods was the reason I became interested in golf. I was sitting on my couch in 2009 watching Tiger Woods and Sean O’Hair go at it. It was beautiful Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. They went to the 18th tee tied. Tiger Woods left the 18th green a winner after sinking a 16-foot birdie putt. That was the moment I decided I was really going to start to play golf. It was the moment that I fell in love with watching golf. Ever since that moment, Tiger Woods has been hands down my favorite player.
I understand why so many people hate Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods at his peak may have been the most revered and respected athlete in the world ever. The only one that even comes close is Michael Jordan. Tiger Woods revolutionized the game of golf. When he turned professional in 1996, the spotlight was already on him. He was an African American child prodigy, who was playing golf before he turned 2. He played at Stanford University and won three consecutive US Amateur titles. Tiger Woods announced his arrival to professional golf by winning his first major, at Augusta National, by 12 strokes. He put golf on the map. He was making millions of dollars and he had a beautiful life and what was seemingly a perfect family life. Not only was he a sports icon, but he was a role model. Parents would tell their kids to be like Tiger. Not just Tiger the golfer, but Tiger the person. Then, it all came crashing down. Everyone who had ever rooted for Woods or looked to him as a role model or even worse, told their kids to do so, felt betrayed. I felt cheated. Cheat on your wife once; you’re a bad person. Cheat on your wife 100 times; I don’t know what that makes you.
Then, why do I still root for Tiger Woods? I don’t do it for him, but I did it for myself. Plain and simple, whether or not he breaks Nicklaus’s record, Woods is the best and most talented golfer to ever play the game and I will probably never get to watch anyone as good. I think I would be depriving myself of something if I stopped watching him. He has the ability to hit any shot from anywhere. He is one of the best escape artists to play the game and before 2009, magic happened when he had a putter in his hand. When watching him, you knew that anything was possible as long as he had that red shirt on. The red shirt didn’t only mean that it was Sunday, but that it was time to win. Those memories often seem like a distant past, but they are why I sit on the edge of my couch. There is Tiger Woods the golfer and Tiger Woods the person. In my mind, they are different people. I can want the golfer to win, while still wanting believing the person still has a lot of changing to do.
Golfer Bobby Jones once said, “Golf is a game that is played on a five-inch course — the distance between your ears.” Ever since that night in November 2009, when Wood’s life came crashing down, he has failed to be the same golfer. He has visibly become a worse putter. He has changed coaches and tried to change his swing, which up to this point has been marginally successful. And, maybe most importantly, he seems to lack that killer instinct. Other golfers are no longer scared of him. Last year, at both the Masters and the British Open, he was in contention after 36 holes and seemingly imploded and failed to shoot in the 60’s in either tournament on the weekend. Regardless of those woes, he is still the number one ranked golfer in the world. He won five tournaments last year, which would be a great career for most golfers, let alone a season. Yet, because it is Tiger Woods, it is not good enough, because the only person that we can compare Tiger to is Tiger. This Tiger still has some work to do.
There was a time where articles were written guessing how many shots Tiger would win by, not if he would win. People didn’t ask if he was going to break Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors, but if he was going win 20 or even 25. Now, there isn’t even a guarantee that he will be in contention on any given Sunday. Out of pure selfishness, I hope one day the “old Tiger” comes back. He may not deserve it, but after everything that he has put us through, we sure do.