Tiger brings hope, excitement

Tiger’s back.
Coastal Point • File Photo

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock or glued to reality television programming centering around the lives of Hef’s best girls, you’re probably aware that Tiger Woods is back to playing competitive golf this week after a prolonged absence due to his shredded knee.

Now, athletes get injured all the time — many of them with ailments much more severe than those that afflicted Tiger’s knee. And there are many stories of athletes overcoming phenomenal odds in their rehabilitation to make it back to their respective fields of glory. But there’s only one Tiger. Much like there was only one Muhammad Ali and only one Michael Jordan. These are the rare athletes that transcend their sports, and capture the imagination and focus of the general public.

Ali would garner as much attention with a microphone in front of his face as he did in the “squared circle” of boxing. Jordan could get men to look away from the decolletage sported by NBA cheerleaders to watch him, and could sell just about any product he loaned his name or face to over the years.

Tiger? Well, he might be a different animal, entirely.

Tiger has a daughter? Splash it all over the news. Not ESPN, mind you, but CNN. He recently had a son. Again, that news trumped many world events in the pecking order of national and international news coverage. He interests us because, well, he’s interesting.

He has dazzled us with his prowess on the golf course, charmed sportswriters with his grace and sense of humor and kept many of us on the edge of our seats as he stormed from behind to claim another victory? Remember that shot he made in the Master’s a few years ago? He chipped up to the green, the ball teetered on the edge of the cup for what seemed an eternity and it dramatically fell into the hole — causing an explosion amidst the gallery surrounding him and etching his name deeper into our collective minds. That wasn’t some bowlwinder that luckily dropped in after a circuitous trip around the cup — it felt like destiny.

As Tiger prepared to tee off earlier this week in the WGC-Accenture Match Plus Championship in Arizona, the talking heads on television and radio were pontificating on his chances for success. Some said he’d be back this year to top form, but it will take a while to shake off the rust. Others said he’s shrewd beyond his years, and wouldn’t come back if he didn’t feel like he could win right away.

Me? I don’t care.

He’s back, and golf is interesting again. Oh, I’ve always enjoyed lazy Sunday afternoons lying on the couch and watching golf between naps as Tostitos crumbs begin to meld directly into my shirt, but it’s undeniably different with Tiger. If he wins by 10 strokes, it’s like watching an artist at work — carving up the golf course and competition, and keeping you glued to the action to see how high he can take his game. If he wins by a stroke, you find yourself wanting the other guy not to fall apart — to not be undone by the pressure of playing with Tiger and to give him a run for the money.

And, if he loses, well, you can always go back to two or three shots you know he wishes he could have back.

He’s compelling. He’s mature beyond his years. He obeys the law. And he’s the most dominant individual athlete to take center stage since, well ... he’s it.

I don’t know where he’ll end up historically in golf. If he’ll have the most victories in majors, or the most wins overall, or if he’ll just be universally recognized as the greatest to ever play the game. You just can’t project injuries or loss of passion due to a growing desire to be with his family.

But I will say, unequivocally, he’s the best to ever play golf. He is. I’m sorry. But that’s the fact.

By the time you read this, Tiger could have been knocked out of his first tournament back. It’s match play, which means every round you play can be your last. But, even if he gets knocked out in the first round, are you doubting that he’ll be the heavy favorite to win the Master’s?

Do you ever doubt that he’s the favorite?

He’s that good. And the PGA Tour is about to enjoy a group hug because the man who draws those sponsors, and ups that tournament money in the process, is back and ready for business.

No digressions here this week — just an appreciation of greatness. And his name is Tiger.