Monday, June 4, 2012

Tiger is golf, but he's still not "back"

While working at the golf course yesterday, I parked my cart in front of the pro shop and went inside to use the men's room. On my way back, I stopped briefly in front of the small TV in the shop. Seconds later, one of the club members walked next to me and asked, "How's he doing?"

I didn't have to ask who "he" was, and the member didn't need to say a name.

Even though it has been nearly four years since he won a major tournament, and even though he pretty much fell off the golfing map for the better part (or worse part, in his case) of two years, Tiger Woods is golf.

Sometimes people complain that he gets too much hype or that ESPN focuses on him too much or that golf writers can't write any golf story without mentioning him -- even if he didn't play in the tournament about which they are writing. There's a reason for all that:

Because he's Tiger Freakin' Woods.

Whether you are a Tiger fan or whether you are a Tiger hater ... whether you are a huge golf fan or barely even a casual observer ... whether you enjoyed Elin taking a 9-iron to his head or thought she should have used a wedge ... his name resonates.

He is golf.

I do not care if Tiger Woods wins or loses, but I prefer that he be a factor whenever he plays. If Tiger is contending on Sunday, a tournament is more interesting. It simply matters more.

In winning Jack Nicklaus' tournament on Sunday -- thereby tying Jack for second on the all-time wins list -- Tiger made a high-risk chip shot so incredible that Nicklaus himself called it "the most unbelievable, gutsy shot I've ever seen."

That's two wins this season after a long dry spell for Tiger, and many have declared that he is "back" just in time for the U.S. Open, which takes place in two weeks.

Sorry, but I'll believe he is back only if he wins the U.S. Open.

He impressively won Arnold's tournament on March 22, leading many observers at the time to say he was back. His next three events: tied for 40th; missed cut; tied for 40th.

He wasn't back.

Tiger himself measures success by the majors. He has been sitting at 14 major titles, four behind Jack's all-time mark, since winning the '08 U.S. Open.

By his own measure, he has failed for four years. Why should us mere mortals measure him any other way?

I'm glad this year's U.S. Open is San Francisco, because that means Sunday's final round will be on in prime time on Father's Day. I'll be home from work and sitting on my La-Z-Boy, watching the entire final round, a bowl of guacamole on one side and a platter of pita chips on the other.

I hope I'm watching Tiger Woods at his best, because the entertainment will be better if he is.

Oh, I'll enjoy it whether he wins or loses. The U.S. Open just about never disappoints.

But if he wins, I'll lift my glass to the TV and say: Tiger is golf ... and now he's finally back.

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