Thursday, January 26, 2017

Go Tiger!!! . . . And Get Off of My Lawn!!!

Tiger Woods will be teeing off at the Farmers Insurance Open in about two hours (assuming I finish this thing in the next hour so everyone leave me the fuck alone). The Farmers is played on the two courses at Torrey Pines, a venue where he has won eight tournaments including the 2008 U.S. Open. He has won this particular tournament seven times including one stretch of four in a row. Suffice it to say, he likes the layout so, if you're one of the many who secretly yearn for a Tiger comeback (guilty), then you better recognize that this is a big week. If he withdraws or misses the cut by 9 shots or even if he makes the cut but then comes unglued on the weekend like he did at the Hero World Challenge, it might be time to finally stick a fork in him.

"What the fuck dude?!? It's just
an expression Jesus Christ!!!"
And if that's the way it goes down, many will ask "who cares?" Especially many from the new golfing breed who flaunt their bro-love by giving post-round shirtless buddy interviews before going ocean fishing on a kayak* and then connecting with their fans and each other on Snapface and Instachat. You know, the ones the announcers like to describe as "fearless" because of the way they "attack" pins and "risk everything" going for par fives in two. Phhhhhtttt. Don't talk to me about "fearless" in the context of golf until you're married with kids and book a tee time on Mother's Day or you hustle your boss out of fifty bucks after telling him you're new to the game.

And besides, I care. And you know why? Because Tiger Woods is a fucking once in a generation phenomenon and they don't come around very often (almost by definition) and, most importantly, he's from my generation. He has had a greater impact on the popularity of a single sport than any other athlete in history (unless you count the first caveman to throw a rock so far that he tripled the number of spectators from one to three). In a poll taken during his prime, people were asked if they'd rather have the camera on Tiger leaning on his club or another player hitting an actual shot and the majority picked Tiger (this is a true thing also known as a "fact").

To understand why many of us from the pleated short generation hang-on to the dream of seeing Tiger make one more great run, let's start with the almost inarguable premise that any story is better if you were there when it happened. The line "I guess you had to be there" is probably the most dickish thing you can say and should really only be used on mortal enemies or if you're trying to diminish your best friend because you're both trying to impress the same woman (and shame on you if you play that card because only an 80's James Spader character would say that and there is no bigger prick than an 80's James Spader character). But dickish as it may be, it's also true. To really appreciate what a phenomenon Tiger was, you had to watch it unfold over time, round by round and shot by shot.

It all started back in September of 1975 when a sonogram clearly showed an unborn Tiger holding the finish on a high fade 3-wood to a back right pin. Flash forward to 1994 when his legend officially took wing as he became the youngest player to ever win the U.S. Amateur and he did it on the manufactured stage at TPC Sawgrass (and no, I can't explain why they played it there). He also did it by coming back from five down with twelve to play and (a) making a dramatic birdie on 17 followed by (b) what would become his signature fist pump while (c) wearing an extremely large shirt and a goofy hat. The legend was born and would simmer near the surface for a few more years until he shot 40 on the first nine of the '97 Masters causing 787,432 grouchy country club guys to go "murmur, murmur, harumph, harumph . . ." before playing the next 81 holes 22 under and winning by 12.**

And to think that Tiger
made this getup look
better than most.
And he just kept doing stuff like that for eleven straight years capped-off by his limp to immortality at the 2008 U.S. OpenDuring that run, he won fourteen majors and along the way he hit some of the most clutch and iconic shots in golf history highlighted by his chip-in on #16 at Augusta in 2005. Think about that for a minute in the context of today's players. Fourteen majors playing against guys like Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, David Duval and Nick Faldo who was the defending Masters champion when Tiger won in '97 (albeit he missed the cut by a mile . . . maybe he saw what was coming and didn't want to get run over). Today's overall talent depth is definitely stronger but Tiger was playing against an elite top level.

Just look at how his dominance changed the legacies of his competitors. If not for Tiger, Els probably wins six majors instead of four. Tom Kite and David Duval each win two instead of being one trick ponies. Chris DiMarco wins two and gets to be Lee Janzen and Andy North instead of just a solid player with three PGA Tour titles. Even Colin Montgomerie, who finished second at the 2005 British Open, could have had one though he probably would've gagged it like he did the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot which was his until he double bogeyed the 72nd hole (Mickelson's epic implosion that year gives Monty some nice cover on that one).

But the greatest impact may have been on a young Sergio Garcia who, as a precocious nineteen year old, lost to Tiger by one shot at the 1999 PGA Championship (and in the process changed the definition of "precocious" to "impending petulance"). If Sergio wins that one, who knows what having that monkey off his back would've done for him in subsequent majors. He's had ten top five major finishes since and he's won twenty tournaments on the PGA and European tours so he clearly has the game but Tiger in his prime didn't just beat good golfers, he stole their mojo like Dr. Evil which brings us to our last point.

You never would've seen Tiger on a fucking kayak with Notah Begay, III in the middle of a tournament. That would've made him look like a normal human being which is the last thing he wanted his competitors to think about him. To the extent that Tiger had any friends on tour back then, they were either second rate players or older guys who posed no threat like Mark O'Meara. He didn't want Els, Duval, Sergio and especially Mickelson to feel one shred of comfort when they were on the course with him. If you want to know what it felt like playing with Tiger, check-out this exchange in the elevator between Don Draper and Michael Ginsberg (if you watched Mad Men, you already know exactly which one I'm talking about). As fans, we loved that cutthroat shit, especially in golf where we rarely got to see it.

"Honey, is something
troubling you?"
Tiger won six tournaments in 2009 but missed-out on the majors which we figured was just a fluke and maybe it was but we'll never know because it was that November when the shit hit the window of the Escalade. After that, things would never be the same. A two year hiatus from winning was somewhat shockingly interrupted by a three win season in 2012 and a strong five win season in 2013 but those were apparently the golfing equivalent of the movie guy we thought was dead finding the strength to fire-off a couple more heroic shots before really dying.

Over the past two seasons Tiger has entered eighteen events. He's made the cut in eleven of them and withdrawn from three. His best finish during that stretch was a tie for 10th at the 2015 Wyndham Championship and his most respectable finish was a tie for 17th at that year's Masters. Can he rediscover the game from that 2013 season when he had five wins and finished 4th at Augusta and tied for 6th at the British Open? Even if he can, will it be enough to compete with a ridiculously talented top tier of players like Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth (we could've easily included five more). Can he win without the intimidation factor? Did I leave the oven on? 

These are all good questions and I, along with a bunch of other 30-50 year olds, hope the answers to them are yes (except the last one) because, even if you dislike him for being a scumbag, you have to admit that one more run of Tiger greatness would be flat-out awesome. The undisputed coolest event in golf history was Jack Nicklaus coming back from mediocrity to win the Masters in 1986 but most of us were too young to fully appreciate that because no one and I mean no one under the age for forty watched golf back then. Our generation deserves its moment. Just give us one more Sunday at Augusta with Tiger doing 2005 Tiger shit on his way to a fifth green jacket and then we'll sit back and shut-up so the next generation can get on their kayak and tweet their way to harmonious mediocrity.

Footnote

Hey, what's up brahs?
* If this reference makes no sense, check-out this link and this picture . . . 

** That blowout doesn't get enough credit. Sure he won by twelve but check-out his margin of victory over the top five players in the world: Greg Norman (M/C), Tom Lehman (17 strokes), Colin Montgomerie (24 strokes), Mark O'Meara (24 strokes) and Ernie Els (18 strokes). Talk about walking into a meeting and putting your junk right on the table.