Sunday, August 23, 2015

Tiger Woods and the minor leagues

As an American, I'm pretty sure I've always had the right to root for and against whoever I wish in the wide world of sports. Never did like Barry Bonds much, but was a fan of Roger Clemens. Much preferred Larry Bird over Magic Johnson. Hated John McEnroe, but loved Jimmy Connors. Bjorn Borg was a class act. Roger Federer still is. Novac Djokovic and Serena Williams have and still win a lot of tournaments, but I could never find a way to root for either. In football, though they've both had their fair share of dopey commercials for money they obviously don't need, I never did much care for Peyton Manning (and his dopey brother), but think Aaron Rodgers is terrific. Tom Brady and the Patriots are in. Pete Carroll and the Seahawks are out. Drew Brees is cool. Andrew Luck is overrated. And I'm sorry, but despite their claim of being America's team, I still hate everything Cowboy.

Which brings me to Tiger Woods. Back in the day, from roughly 1999 to 2008, Woods was winning just about everything imaginable. It was likely the greatest decade of dominance in golf ever. It seemed everybody was on the Tiger bandwagon. But not me. Sure, he was a great player, but he rubbed me the wrong way. No, I had no idea he would eventually be outed as a serial adulterer, but it was already evident he, and his then caddie Steve Williams, seemed to think they were some sort of royalty on the courses. This was played down, of course, by the media, but word got around quietly about their haughty and arrogant behavior regarding the galleries that had paid big bucks to watch the action. Eventually it became common knowledge. This is precisely why yours truly refused to join the legions of Tiger supporters. A good golfer --  yes. A good man -- not so much. A gentleman only when he knew the cameras and microphones were focused entirely on him. Otherwise quite the boor. To this day, Eldrick still drops an occasional f-bomb and a Goddammit on the course, though he seems to have improved his childish club pounding a bit when frustrated. It's a start, but he's approaching 40. A bit late for a makeover into a shining knight. His DNA is what it is and it will always be so.

But Eldrick Tont Woods has experienced a spectacular fall in the last several years. Once the #1 golfer in the world, Tiger plummeted far below #200 in the rankings. This year, he had only played 10 tournaments. He missed the cut in 4 of them, and withdrew from another after pitiful play during the first round. All in all, Woods had only played 28 rounds of competitive golf this season. He had virtually no shot at qualifying for golfing's version of the playoffs. Only the top 125 ranked golfers get in. Then mysteriously, the golf rankers somehow elevated Woods up to #187. He could possibly get into the "postseason". A long shot, but if he could win this week's second-tier Wyndham Tournament, one he had never even played before, there was still hope. His groupies flocked to North Carolina to root him on. The TV folks were ready with their usual assortment of hype, Tiger this and Tiger that. They want him to win. They need him to win. Life as we know it might end if Eldrick doesn't make the playoffs. Or so it seems to the Woodite faithful.

And you know what? He just might pull this off. After 3 rounds, Eldrick is only two shots out of the lead. Can he seal the deal with a good final round, or might the wheels fall off again and bring on more of the tantrums we have seen in the last few years? Hard to say.

But he couldn't ask for an easier field to compete against. None of the big boys are there. No Jordan Spieth, no Rory McIlroy, no Jason Day, and nary a Johnson (Dustin or Zack). Bubba's not there, nor is Rickey, or the Koooooochar dude. No sign of Justin Rose, Jim Furyk, Jimmy Walker, Henrik Stenson, Louis Oosthuizen, or Adam Scott. These guys are all getting ready for the first round of the playoffs (the Barclays) and didn't need to go to a second-tier tournament.

Yet it was Tiger's only shot. Though he's well-positioned on the leaderboard, consider the best competition he's playing against.

A guy named Tom Hoge. Tiger has won 79 tournaments in his career. Hoge has played 79 total rounds.
Jason Gore. He's been on the tour for 19 years and has a grand total of one win.
Jonas Blixt. Sounds vaguely familiar, but c'mon. Not exactly a household name in the golf world.
Scott Brown? Beats me.
Davis Love III is a well-known name from years past, but he's now 51 years old. He can play on the senior circuit as well if he chooses. It should be noted DL3 has exactly 20 PGA career tournament victories -- the last coming back in 2008 -- and the magic number to give his a lifetime exemption to play in any tournment he wishes. Kind of like Tiger, he could theoretically play until he's 100, but good luck trying to beat the fearless young guns that keep popping up everywhere with some serious game. Ain't gonna happen.

And there's the rub. Even if Tiger manages to pull off a victory at the Wyndham and gets into the playoffs, what chance does he really have? Zero. The above-mentioned big boys will eat him alive on tougher courses in pressure-packed atmospheres.

So okay, Tiger is competitive in a minor league tournament and good for him. But that's as far as it goes. His legions of die-hard fans and the accompanying media can root root root all they want for their hero, but his time in truly competitive golf at it's highest level has come and gone.

And that's just pretty much the way it is.

Idle thought: We've all heard the loud-mouthed morons screaming GO IN THE HOLE when Tiger hits a golf shot. As mentioned at the head of this article, people are free to root for and against whoever they choose. So what would happen if somebody yelled out GO IN THE WATER, or bunker, or woods? Better yet, what would happen if someone in the gallery dared to boo Eldrick? Shouldn't that be allowed as well? Probably not. They'd likely get booted off the course, because Tiger is royalty, you see. Despite having paid the price of admission, it's just not permissible to boo in golf. It's perfectly okay and even expected in any other sport, but it just won't be accepted in a "gentleman's" game. F-bombs, G-dammits, and club pounding by Tiger are one thing. But don't you dare show disapproval.

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