As I’ve stated previously in this space, my love for Tiger Woods is outstripped only by my love for Fireball whiskey and public urination (usually in conjunction). I asked the fickle golf gods for a victory at Augusta last year, but Tiger came up short. I wrote: “I need to believe it’s possible to come back from the bottom of bottoms, to again become that scowling, cursing, club-tossing, unbeatable douchebag that I fell in love with 12 years ago.” I’ve changed my mind. I need Tiger to win, yes, but I don’t need him like he was before. And to be honest, he probably doesn’t need to be like he was before.
A lot has changed in Tiger’s world between last April and this one. He’s won. Quite a bit, in fact. Enough to regain the world #1 ranking that he unthinkably surrendered. He’s gone public with his relationship with snow bunny (and gold medalist) Lindsey Vonn. He’s struck up a friendship with his perceived top rival, Rory McIlbitch. McIlroy. Sorry. Old habits. And, this Sunday, I think he’ll be putting on a green jacket that will mean more to him than any of his other four.
These are things that would have been unthinkable back in his killer-robot days. I like watching this Tiger, the one that’s jussssstthisclose to being “back,” the one that has to sweat out Sunday competition, the one who smiles in post-round interviews once in a while. Not to say I didn’t love the pissed-off, dominant asshole he was in the early 2000s, but there’s something to say for holding your breath during a big putt hoping it will go in rather than knowing it will. Every fan has their greatest Tiger moments, and looking back, mine are Tiger at his most vulnerable. Watching him race 10 shots up on Saturday afternoons was awe inspiring, absolutely, but watching his fist pump after sinking a 15-footer on one leg against Rocco Mediate gives me goose bumps. Ditto for the British Open win after Earl died, breaking down in his caddy’s arms after the final putt fell (I still don’t say that traitor’s name).
I like Tiger the Comeback even more than I did Tiger the God, partly because my American DNA compels me to root for an underdog. I mean, Christ, Rocky came out of retirement for three straight movies. But also partly because we’re watching the redemption story of something that could happen to any one of us. Tiger, at 35, was the ultimate bro. Tons of sex, money, gambling, drugs, success. He lived above the world, just like we sometimes think we do. But alas, life reminded him that you can’t kill it that hard for that long. In our world, maybe that’s being fired from a job for showing up hungover too much, or taking a semester off after pulling a 1.2, maybe even a dreaded DUI. For Tiger it was public humiliation, years of ridicule and a disgustingly large divorce settlement. He’s now climbing his way back in front of our eyes, one birdie at a time.
Tiger will win on Sunday, I think. But I don’t know. And neither does he anymore, I’d bet. But that’s what’s going to make this weekend fun. Well, that and about 529 Coors Lights and an outdoor grill. Happy Masters week, everybody.