Thursday, February 27, 2014

Tiger Woods. Let the hype begin

Nevermind the NHL and NBA. They're going through their dog days of winter right about now. Intererest won't really pick up in them until the playoffs start. Same with Major League Baseball. They just reported to spring training, even though spring remains a few weeks away. Tennis? There's probably a tournament going on somewhere, but wake me up when the French Open starts towards the end of May.

Wait a minute. The end of May? That's Indy 500 time. Those guys and gals slip-sliding around on the clay courts at Roland Garros will have to take a back seat in my world when they fire up the 230 MPH racing machines at the Brickyard. Tennis is OK when nothing else is going on, but a man/fan has to have his priorities.

And then there's golf. According to a recent article, the current PGA season has already been underway for 5 months. Really? Have you noticed? Not me. That means it started way back at the end of last September, before the World Series was even played. I understand pro golf is supposed to be somewhat of a quiet -- QUIET -- sport, but playing it in secrecy for 5 months is getting a bit ridiculous.

Nevertheless, one can faintly hear the trumpets over the horizon as they approach. This has to do with two things. The Masters Tournament, of course, which will get underway in early April at the famed Augusta National course in Georgia.

But evidently, far more important is the status of Tiger Woods as he prepares for it. Well, let's see. Eldrick has had two outings in the last few months.

(It should be noted that, in Tiger's case, this is not meant in the same way as other recently highly publicized "outings" in the world of sports. Once seems to be more than sufficient in those cases to generate maximum publicity. But if Tiger ever dropped that sort of bombshell about his true inner self.....  Nah, couldn't happen -- right?).

At one of his favorite courses -- where he's won many times in the past -- Torrey Pines -- he missed the cut by a mile, finishing 80th. Over in Dubai, another venue he has had great success at over the years, he finished tied for 41st. But Tiger was smiling. He thought his game was getting better, and if it hadn't been for all those putts he barely missed, he might have been a contender. Right. And if all those shots hadn't rimmed out, and the difference between a routine high fly ball and a home run being maybe an eighth of an inch as to how the bat strikes the baseball, I'm thinking if some of the other guys were just a little bit more accurate with what they do, their stats would be quite a bit better as well. But like Tiger's putts -- unless it's horseshoes, hand grenades, or the woman who plops down next to you on a bar stool is wearing at least a quart of cheap musky perfume -- close calls don't count.

But I suspect Tiger had another reason to smile in Dubai. It doesn't matter how he plays when he gets there. He could finish dead last, but he gets paid millions just to show up. Sure, a few million here or there is chump change to an oil rich Sheikh, but evidently he has a certain fondness for Tiger. A pretty sweet gig, if one can get it.

However, nobody's going to pay him squat just to show up at Augusta National. He has to earn it on the course like everybody else.

But here's the thing. As the days count down towards the Masters, the trumpets heralding Tiger's arrival will keep getting louder. On the eve of this event, they will be deafening. His Highness, King Eldrick, will dominate every aspect of the sports media. Through the first two rounds of play on Thursday and Friday, everything Tiger does on the course will be shown and replayed over and over. He might even make the cut. If so, the crescendo of horns, and groupies, will reach a fever pitch on the weekend.

People want him to win. They NEED him to win. But guess what?

He's not going to win. Why? Tiger's days of intimidating the field are over, and have been for a while. He hasn't won a "major" in 5 years. The other top tour veterans not only know he's beatable in big events, but likely devote little thought to him anymore, while concentrating on their own game. Worse yet, other world class young studs keep popping up everywhere, and they couldn't care less about what Tiger Woods did in the past. To them, he's just another aging golfer, and they have a swagger of their own. Much like Tiger 15 years ago, these guys are not only good and know it, but are not the least bit intimidated by the established stars. Sure, they'll publicly show proper deference and respect to their "elders", but down deep they just want to kick ass.

Tiger Woods may or may not ever win another major. But unlike his younger days, he seems to fold on the weekends in such tournaments, rather than getting stronger in recent years.

But the Tigermania hype will still be there in full force again -- at least leading up to this year's Masters. Tiger this, and Tiger that. Here, there, and everywhere will be coverage of Tiger.

We'll see how it turns out in April, but I think his chances of winning at Augusta are slim, at best.

Remember just a few short years ago when many would take Tiger against the entire field on a wager in any given tournament -- let alone a major?

Would you place such a bet on Tiger now?

Times are changing indeed. Tiger's on the back side of his bell curve and the young studs keep coming. His groupies need to come to grips with reality, because it's not going away.

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