Unlike many of the young kids who watched Tiger Woods win a a golf tournament on Sunday, I’m old enough to remember when Tiger was the most dominant athlete in the world. I’m also old enough to remember his fall from grace. The magazine covers, the news reports, the endless series of setbacks — personal, physical and professional — it seemed impossible that he would ever make it back to the top of the golfing world.
The return to victory was a long and winding one, but five years after his last PGA tour victory, Woods tapped in a short putt, stretched his arms out in some combination of exultation, relief and happiness and looked around at a gallery of loyal fans, some of whom may never have expected Tiger to return to the top of his game.
It was an incredible moment for the sport of golf and for the sports world in general. A sports icon, an athlete whose name is as instantly recognizable as Jordan or Messi, back at the top of his sport. As sports fans, we yearn for intriguing storylines, and Tiger’s story is as complicated as any. The highs and lows, the greatness and failures, the comebacks and near misses — it had a little of everything.
The fluctuations in Tiger’s journey are what make him such a interesting athlete. I don’t admire Woods as a person. His adulterous behavior, his arrests, the arrogance that sometimes pervades his interview — it’s not a combination of character values that I look for in any of my favorite athletes. But there’s something engrossing about his presence on a golf course and the resulting waves that he creates throughout the sports world. In the middle of a day reserved for professional football, sports fans all over the world were talking about golf. Who else commands so much attention from sports fans of all shapes and sizes? No athlete is as scrutinized and debated about, except maybe LeBron when he decides to switch teams. What draws us so much to Tiger? Perhaps it’s the confidence. The fire. The energy he brings to a sport so often devoid of it.
Plenty of people root for Tiger despite the mistakes he’s made. But even if you can’t root for Tiger as a person, everyone should be able to root for the story. It is like a Hollywood screenplay — Tiger — the former superstar dismissed as finished, slowly clawing his way back to contention over the course of a magical golf summer, until he eventually reaches victory in the final event of the year. It sounds too good to be true, and yet on Sunday, it happened right in front of us.
It was special to watch the throng of fans follow Woods up the fairway on the 18th, a sea of people being led by a figure who is unmistakable in his Sunday reds, a golf hero back at the pinnacle of his sport. Who knows how long Woods will stay there? He’ll be the favorite at the Masters in April, but even if he fails to win, the Tiger storyline has been revived, a new chapter written. And as sports fans, regardless of how we feel about the athlete, we all can appreciate a legendary comeback story.
Contact Gregory Block at gblock ‘at’ stanford.edu.