Ageless Wonder? Or, Aging Wonder Boy?
We cling to Tiger Woods like an eight-year-old to a favorite blankie at bedtime. He showed some promise going into the Masters and we went ga-ga. He hadn’t played in it since 2015, more than
a thousand days ago, but several polls and experts actually called him the favorite going into the event. So misplaced. We need to start distinguishing between fact-based predictions and wishful thinking.
This is my third redo of this column. The first column said that we would know pretty much where Tiger is after he plays The Genesis Open at Riviera, because Riviera is one of those magical tests. Excel at Riviera and you are special, because that’s what it is. Excel at Harbor Town, or a dozen other PGA Tour courses, and you are just very good. Riviera is filled with challenges and nuances. Same as some of the courses it is mentioned alongside by longtime followers of the sport. Such as the Olympic Club, or Oakmont, or Pebble Beach … or Augusta National.
Tiger stunk it up at Riviera, where he hadn’t played since 2006. He missed the cut by four.
But that felt like an unfair pre-judgement of a guy who needed more time to get his sea legs. So, I tore that one up, as well as a second one that speculated that we would know much more after the Masters. Thankfully, magazine deadlines permit such hemming and hawing.
Now the Masters has come and gone. The ultimate test of golf — the impossible-to-putt greens, the distracting beauty, the incredibly high stakes — has revealed that a dozen or so golfers, including champion Patrick Reed, are on an elite level that allows them to win at Augusta. Tiger is not in that dozen. More and more, it looks to me like he never will be again. The thing is, that seems to be our problem. He is trying, grinding, hitting the ball far enough to again to be in the mix, but certainly not straight enough. It is only natural for him to want to get back, to rationalize that he can, to see the bright spots and block out the reality of everything else. Any of us in his shoes would want to get back to our days of wine and roses.
He is living in the past. Understandably. We are enabling him. Not understandably.
The media and fans (“patrons,” as they must be called at the Masters), ramp up our expectations every time he makes a 20-foot putt. We can’t seem to let him go. Newspaper columns and headlines leading into the Masters were breathless over this 42-year-old man whose last major title came when he limped around Torrey Pines in the 2008 U.S. Open and won a playoff. Admirable. Also, 10 years ago.
CBS and ESPN and the Golf Channel all do a wonderful job of giving us the sights and sounds and flavor of the Masters. But like fans and other media, they can’t let Tiger go. On Sunday, we had to go back and forth between the leaders and real news-makers to watch Tiger attempt to reach his goal of finishing the tournament at even par, which was still more than a dozen shots behind the leaders.
And then the post-match interviewer drooled on about how wonderful it was that he came close. The people calling these shots on the networks can’t seem to distinguish between delivering the real news and a Cinderella story they pray will come true and send their ratings through the roof. News judgement and the pursuit of ratings are all too often diametrically opposed.
Tiger Woods won 14 major titles. He dominated his sport. We came to expect his dominance, his magic. We always knew, and think we still do, that those massive putts will still stop at the edge of the hole long enough to reveal a Nike logo, and then drop in.
Now, we need to give it, and him, a break. Let him play his way back to his magical ways, if that is possible. And when, and if, that happens, then get ga-ga again. Stop all the media drooling and phony expectations. There is only one certainty at the moment, and we ought to deal with it.
That certainty is that Tiger Woods will, in about seven years, be a wonderful Champions Tour player. ▪