Tiger Woods still gets everyone’s attention
So many people surrounded the first tee that it was hard to see
who was playing. The gallery stretched down the entire length of
the 461-yard opening hole and wrapped around the back of the green
on a sun-baked Sunday at Bay Hill.
Now on the tee, Tiger Woods.
He was in a tie for 29th. He was 10 shots out of the lead, no
serious threat to win.
About four hours later, the final group of Martin Laird and
Spencer Levin approached the fifth green with under 100 fans
This is nothing new.
A few weeks earlier at Doral, the PGA Tour decided to group
players based on their world ranking. Someone estimated the gallery
at 85 people for the ”Big Three” of Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood
and Luke Donald. On the other side of the course, there were too
many fans to count in the group of players ranked 4-5-6 – Graeme
McDowell, Woods and Phil Mickelson.
During the FedEx Cup playoffs last year at Ridgewood, thousands
of fans crammed behind the ropes on both sides of the fairway at
Ridgewood Country Club to watch Woods, who was in 20th place and
One reporter was thinking too hard as he searched for the
meaning of it all.
”I get it … but I don’t get it,” he said as his eyes scanned
the size of the crowd. ”The guy is in 20th place. Why wouldn’t you
go watch someone who is actually playing well?”
The answer: They were there to see Babe Ruth.
Even at his worst – and there are plenty of numbers and
statistics to back that up – Woods remains the most compelling
figure in golf. It was like that at Bay Hill. It will be that way
next week at the Masters, even as Mickelson tries to join him with
four green jackets, or Kaymer goes after a second straight major,
or Westwood tries to regain the No. 1 ranking, this time without
having to explain why.
Never mind that Woods is meandering through mediocrity at the
Wednesday will mark 500 days since his last victory at the
Australian Masters, his last tournament before the car crash
outside his Florida home and the revelations of affairs that
followed and broke up his marriage.
He has played 20 tournaments since, not including the Ryder Cup.
In his only chance to win, at the Chevron World Challenge, Woods
coughed up a four-shot lead in the final round to McDowell, the
first time in his career that Woods was leading by more than three
shots going into the last day and didn’t win.
Woods has earned $265,465 in five tournaments this year. He
earned more in his first five tournaments as a 20-year-old pro.
In 16 starts on the PGA Tour since he returned last year, Woods
has three top 10s.
One longtime British golf journalist might have summed it up
best last year at The Players Championship. He wandered onto the
TPC Sawgrass to watch Woods for a couple of holes, then walked back
in. ”It’s nothing special,” he said.
So why the special treatment?
Because Woods is approaching an important anniversary.
It’s not the one-year anniversary of his return to competition
at the Masters, where he played off memory and somehow tied for
fourth at Augusta National with a performance that raised false
It’s the 10-year anniversary of his greatest feat.
Woods won the Masters in 2001 to become the only player to hold
all four major championships at the same time. It took him 294 days
to achieve something that might never be done again. There was no
one close to him in the game back then.
There remains no one close to him in interest level now.
That’s why he draws the biggest crowds. That’s why television
can’t resist showing him.
A few years ago, Sean O’Hair was in rough on the 14th hole of
the North Course at Torrey Pines, and Woods was on the adjacent
hole. Spotting a reporter, O’Hair playfully asked why he was always
watching Woods. Then came a question to O’Hair: ”If you had this
job, who would you be watching on Thursday?”
”Tiger,” O’Hair said with a laugh.
Woods was more interesting to watch when he was winning 40
percent of his tournaments, when he looked like a special player.
Now he is interesting in a nostalgic sense. They remember how he
once performed and wonder if he ever will play that way again.
Will he reach, let alone surpass, the benchmark of 18
professional majors won by Jack Nicklaus?
Can he be golf’s best player again?
Not even Woods knows the answer.
All anyone has at the moment are memories of how he once played,
and they are strong enough to hold the interest.
In times of parity – which is what Woods’ demise has brought –
come reminders of how hard it is to win, and how often Woods won.
Consider this: Before turning 30, Woods already had 46 wins on the
PGA Tour and 10 majors.
Until someone else comes along – probably not in Woods’ lifetime
– everyone will want to know about Woods, good or bad. Some watch
because they are eager to see him dominate again. Some watch
because they delight in his failure. Others are just curious.
But they’re watching.
At the 1999 Masters, when Woods was rebuilding his swing and was
no longer No. 1 in the world, he was in the middle of the pack and
headed for Amen Corner on Saturday with a dozen or so media close
behind. A radio technician looked at the approaching mass with
disdain, shook his head and said, ”Why are you guys following
Tiger? He’s not even the story.”
That’s when someone posed a question.
If Nicklaus had called Augusta National that day, he probably
would have asked who was leading the tournament.
What would his next question be?