On Saturday evening, I was invited to be a guest on a popular sports radio show. The first question that was tossed my way was focused on Tiger Woods. Then we kept talking about him. And kept, and that is the way it goes.
After my talk, I went to get dinner with my uncle, one of my best friends in the world and an avid golfer. During the dinner, I saw some familiar faces across the room, good enough to say a kind hello but not good enough to remember last names. Their first question to me? Tiger Woods, and what is wrong with him. And on and on it goes.
Our country is obsessed with the Tiger drama whether we like it or not, and this week, like the British Open at St. Andrews, shows exactly that.
An interesting thing happened at the end of the CBS telecast on Saturday. Steve Elkington, the 1995 PGA Championship winner, was finishing up on 18, tapping in for par on the final hole. He finished at 8-under after Saturday, and I gasped. How had I not seen more than a shot or two by Elkington all day, after he posted a 31 on the back nine on Saturday at a major championship to leapfrog most on the leaderboard, and find himself just five shots back of the lead? Oh, because he was paired with Woods all day. That's why.
It is hard to totally understand our obsession with the fallen superstar. Not since Mike Tyson has someone so great at a single sport fallen so quickly, and unlike Tyson, Tiger has an appeal to a grander audience, one of kids and mothers and aunts. It is a sport that is more poetic than boxing, and less gruesome. Everyone that has ever picked up a stick can understand the trials and tribulations that happen out on a golf course between the first tee and the 18th green, and there is something relative to us instinctively that makes us feel that we, the mortals of the golfing world, can feel the pain Tiger is going through.
Tiger had a birdie putt on his final hole on Saturday. It was just outside 30 feet, and when he hit it, the putt seemed to be tracking. Roll, roll, roll ... it was losing speed as it neared the hole, and unlike previous years, when you knew that putt was going to fall, most of my brain, my heart, expected it to sit on the lip of the cup, tainting Tiger Woods like that little white ball has done all season. Unlike the rest of his year, it dropped, and he closed with a birdie to end a round that didn't really matter.
He isn't going to win this tournament at Whistling Straits, just like he wasn't going to win the Masters on the final day, or the U.S. Open. He doesn't have the game to do it. Like a football player that returns from retirement and just isn't conditioned enough to compete in real time football, Tiger's swing and putting stroke aren't good enough to win against a field like this. They aren't. You can listen to quote after quote coming out of his very particular mouth, but you have to understand that what he is saying is more to boost himself up than to give us actual information. He won't win this season, because for the first time in his career he isn't good enough to beat the rest of the field.
So, why do we care? Why do all of us have to read a story like this one, about Tiger Woods, when there are incredible stories like Rory McIlroy going for a major at 21, or Nick Watney and Dustin Johnson trying to claim their first major championship? Well, it's because Tiger Woods is golf. He's the face of this whole thing. He's the reason most of us tune in.
It's sad, no doubt, but it is the truth. When the final putt drops on Sunday, and the random winner hoists the Wanamaker above his head as his caddie and friends raise toasts of champagne to a hard week completed on top, talk shows will prepare for the main subject in this game; what's wrong with Tiger?
That is simply the question without a definite answer. He's got so many problems right now, nobody knows exactly where to start, and holding a golf club to Tiger's right temple isn't going to do it.
But, we will continue to care, because that's what we do. Tiger Tiger Tiger. At the end of the day, it's the only name that matters, and that is just sad.