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THOMPSON: Tiger Woods is a contender again

August 20, 2018 - 12:07 PM



Eight days ago, the world’s best golfers competed mightily to win the 2018 PGA Championship…the year’s final tournament of four so-called “Majors” contested annually…championships considered the most prestigious on the PGA Tour.

Winning a “Major” - The Masters, The U.S. Open, The Open Championship (aka The British Open) and The PGA Championship - is a life-changing event for those who make their living chasing a little white ball around a park-like setting.

And while there are about 28,000 card-carrying professional golfers worldwide…a mix of local club pros, teaching pros and actual Tour players…only about 156 of the world’s best golfers ever compete at one of the Majors. It is difficult to win a single Major…and multiple wins are more rare than holes-in-one.

Fewer than a handful who play golf professionally today have won at least five Majors. In fact, just two golfers have done it. One is Phil Mickelson…who has won five…and the other is Tiger Woods. Tiger has won 14 Majors…twice as many as Arnold Palmer. Only Jack Nicklaus - with 18 championships - has won more Majors.

Tiger’s 14 victories in Majors spans 21 years…Nicklaus had a 44-year career. Jack was 46 when he won his last Major…his sixth win at The Masters in 1986. And Julius Boros was 48 years old - the oldest player to ever win a Majors tournament - when he won The PGA Championship in 1968. Tiger is 42 years old…and from all appearances has adjusted his swing to accommodate his four back surgeries and fused vertebrae. He might not be the Tiger of 1997…but he’s still Tiger.

FILE PHOTO - In this Feb. 2, 2017, file photo, Tiger Woods reacts on the 10th hole during the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
FILE PHOTO - In this Feb. 2, 2017, file photo, Tiger Woods reacts on the 10th hole during the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili, File

I’m not going to get into one of those GOAT (Greatest of All Time) arguments…Mike vs LeBron, steak vs lobster, Gershwin vs Mozart…they’re just silly. Accept greatness…or genius…for what it is and appreciate it.

Of course, like any popular athlete or team in sports…for reasons that are known and unknown…Tiger has a fair number of people who hate him. Look closely at the members of the Tiger Haters Club…and you can see clearly see that it stems mostly from jealousy or simply a holier-than-thou judgment.

Yes, Tiger cheated on his wife…but the American president has, too, and Donald Trump found two of his wives by cheating on the previous wife. Of course, there are plenty of racists, too. Those harbouring hate for whatever reason…give it a rest. Most people like a good redemptive story…which gets me back to last week’s PGA Championship.

It was exciting. Brooks Koepke - a 28-year-old American - won his third Major…he’s won three of the PGA Tour’s last seven Majors…so he’s a high-potential future Hall of Famer. Even so, in my mind - and in the minds of millions of golf fans -Tiger’s performance created the most excitement. He shot a final round 63 in a charge that fell just two shots shy of winning his 15th Major.

The television audience jumped 69 percent over last year’s PGA Championship. In fact, Sunday’s final round was the highest rated golf tournament on television for the past nine years. People so want to see Tiger win. Tiger’s comeback has been a twelve-year struggle actually.

How Tiger’s life unravelled is more complicated and layered than most people realize…even today. His life and game spiralled downward after a well-known and extremely personal event. Alas, when you’re famous - athlete, politician, movie star - nothing is really private.

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2009, any privacy Tiger had…ended. In an embarrassing night that started with Tiger’s wife of five years - Elin Nordegren - reading text messages on his phone from alleged mistress Rachel Uchitel…it got worse. The ensuing argument ended with Tiger slamming his Cadillac Escalade into a fire hydrant near his driveway. Tiger’s barely private life went completely public in an instant. Most of us don’t live under the microscope that celebrity brings, so we can only imagine how pervasive and unending a toll it takes.

But Tiger’s public fall from grace was the culmination of stress that really started three years earlier when his father, Earl, died. Tiger’s grief…and the way he dealt with it…loneliness despite public adulation, a desire for something more in a relationship, and what can only be described as a fixation on the military. His dad was an Army Green Beret…and Tiger obsessively read heroic stories about the military…especially the Special Forces of the various branches.

And despite his wealth and celebrity, according to an in-depth article by ESPN in 2016, Tiger didn’t have what he most wanted…freedom…something most of us take for granted. Few knew how dark the years would become after 2009.

Despite the loss of his father, the cracks in Tiger’s game didn’t show immediately. He won more than half the events he entered in 2006, 2007 and 2008…19 of 37 tournaments…including four Majors. But deepening isolation and his flagging trust in others…and ultimately back injuries…led to just eight wins in 89 events from 2010 until today.

But this year, Tiger has six Top Ten finishes in 15 events. And last week, amid cheers and excitement that the PGA Tour has not had in years…Tiger was a contender. Fans are ready for Tiger to win again…and win Majors.

Clearly he has a chance…a good chance. He’s 42…probably another 6 years of playing if he stays healthy. He has won 79 tournaments…including his 14 Majors.  But more than any other factor…he’s gained wisdom. He’s stronger emotionally…and when you look at his physical presence…well, he’s younger than his years. And no one should ever doubt Tiger’s will to win.

Tiger - once again - has everything necessary to win. And for those of us who follow golf…or simply those who love seeing a life reclaimed…it brings smiles. Forgiveness is a good thing.

And, trust me, though I haven’t been in church lately, I’m pretty sure it was Jesus who said, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone…”

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines. His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.

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