Roy Green: A red shirt and the 18th fairway at East Lake for Tiger Woods
For me, the debate is done. Tiger Woods is the greatest athlete I have ever seen perform.
Like you, I admire many great athletes, current and former. Football, baseball, hockey, soccer, basketball, Olympics and boxing (largely because of one man) have provided contenders for the greatest athlete.
On Sunday, though, it was a red shirt bobbing its way up the 18th fairway at Atlanta’s East Lake golf course, surrounded by a throng of cheering, delirious fans, in a scene repeated no doubt in front of television screens in around the world, as people on their feet roared undisguised approval and some wept as the man inside that bobbing red shirt, this ever-so-slightly paunchy 42-year-old, with the ever-so-slightly compromised hairline, reclaimed what scavengers had been scrabbling over far too long.
Golf is complexity in motion. While you are competing against others, your real opponent is you and your emotions.
For years Tiger hadn’t just won majors as well as other prestigious tournaments, he’d crushed entire fields of the best the world had to offer. Again and again.
That was before. Before Tiger’s personal life collapse and before injuries caused by an utterly violent golf swing repeated hundreds of thousands of times.
The life woes played out in public. Salacious details hungered after, injuries reported with finality.
Following another apparently unhelpful back surgery to repair what was clearly badly broken a headline screamed a demand: Quit Tiger.
Quit Tiger? You’ve got the wrong guy.
Even with personal life coverage eventually off the front pages golf embarrassments piled on each other. What should have been routine shots flew wildly astray. Tiger’s name appeared at the bottom of leaderboards. On Fridays.
One pundit described Tiger Woods as an “embarrassment” to the game.
Tiger kept fighting to reclaim his game even as his world ranking had sunk so low guys who played weekly qualifiers were keeping him company.
Then, slowly, excruciatingly slowly at first, we started to see it. An occasional brief streak of brilliance. Two or three shots in succession. Then a wild duck hook and another Friday afternoon plane ride home.
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Some of Tigers worst shots were so bad I could make them. My friends would tell you that’s pretty damned awful.
On the odd Sunday, he’d appear within hailing distance of the lead of a tournament and the red shirt would come out of the closet. Painful. The Sunday red shirt was ritual. It symbolized a Tiger Woods victory about to unfold. Now it seemed like an affront.
Except. Except the good shots earlier this year increased in number. Steadily so. The body seemed more youthful. The wincing was less. Confidence was building. In Tiger. In us.
And then Sunday.
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The fourth round of the Tour Championship at East Lake. Tiger had a three-stroke lead. He was paired with young phenom Rory McIlroy. Rory talked about how excited he was. He seemed confident. Mmhmm…
Rory never had a chance. It was Tiger’s day. It was Tiger’s gallery. It was destiny.
Rory slid backwards as his shots wandered all over the course.
There was the Justin Rose, world No. 1 and eventual FedEx champion and winner of $10 million.
Lucky for you, Justin, you escaped being paired with Tiger. Your day would have mirrored that of Rory. Playing immediately in front of Tiger had you spraying your shots and sliding down the leaderboard.
Tiger Woods tweet Sunday night was “I’ve been sitting on 79 [tour victories] for about five years now and to get 80 is a pretty damn good feeling.”
For you Tiger and for all of us.
You’re already the oddsmakers’ favourite for the Masters’ next spring.
Roy Green is the host of the Roy Green Show on the Global News Radio network.
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