Friday, February 27, 2009

Back to earn more stripes

Tiger's back on the prowl. He didn't have quite the same growl in his first tournament, as he threw in the towel in the second round of the Accenture Match Play Championship, losing 4-and-2 to Tim Clark.

But the golf world (or the whole world, really) is back on notice. In his Wednesday return to golf, the Golf Channel drew its highest ratings for any round of a tournament it has covered. And this was the first round of a 64-player match play tournament, sort of like the first round of March Madness.

It was, after all, the return of the greatest athlete in the world after an eight-month layoff due to knee surgery. Tiger is not just the best golfer out there, he IS golf. Despite not playing since last June (when he won the U.S. Open despite a double stress fracture of his left tibia and a torn ACL), Tiger ranks 1st in the World Golf Rankings by 1.74 points over Sergio Garcia. 1.74 doesn't sound like much, until you realize that it's greater than the gap between the 65th player in the world and the 550th.

Even more amazing is that back in January, in the midst of a seven-month layoff, his World Golf Ranking was actually 1.14 points HIGHER. So before his return and ensuing second round defeat, as talented columnist Mike Nadel points out, the gap between Tiger and 6th ranked golfer Geoff Ogilvy was greater than that between Ogilvy and the 1,382nd ranked golfer, good ol' Pablo Abumohor. But check this out: after his U.S. Open victory, Tiger had 21.54 ranking points, twice as many as 2nd-place Phil Mickelson. Despite spending the last eight months rehabbing, he still sits atop the world leader board, but has dropped all the way down to 9.61 points.

Tiger is a joy to watch. Some take issue with his periodically brash demeanor; others shun his dominance for the same reason that many of us are sick of the Yankees' non-stop success since the mid-90s. I agree that he should try to restrain himself from yelling at photographers (though in fairness, he's the only golfer that has to deal with this constant distraction), but with regard to his personality and antics, it's not like we're talking about T.O. or Michael Vick here. He generally seems to be a pretty nice guy and a solid role model.

In terms of his dominance, Tiger Woods is not funded by the Steinbrenners. He's not buying success by spending as much as the bottom 13% of players on the tour. No, Woods is just a man more skilled at his sport than anyone else, a guy with the focus and intensity of a tiger; a golf prodigy who shot 48 over nine holes at the age of three, won the Junior World Championships six times, was the youngest ever Junior Amateur Champion, and has exhibited the staying power to parlay his early success into an extended stranglehold on the game of golf.

I'm typically a fan of parity, but in this case I side with rarity. Tiger is MJ. Tiger is Ali. Tiger is Babe Ruth. I can't help but hope for him to continue to add to his list of accomplishments so that I can say I grew up watching the man with the most major titles (2nd place, four more to match Nicklaus) and the most PGA tour wins (3rd place, 17 more to tie Sam Snead).

He has been ranked 1st in the world since June 12, 2005. That string of 194 weeks is not even the longest of his career--he controlled the leader board for an absurd 264 weeks from 1999-2004 (that's a record). Whether he attains the above distinctions or not, I've gained a great deal of enjoyment watching this freak of nature, and even his detractors must admit that he is special to watch.

I'm just glad Tiger's back. Oh, and by the way: The Masters is April 9-12.

1 comment:

  1. Your rhyming schemes in par. 1 (golf term, unintentional) made me scowl but on the seventh hole, your pairing of "parity" with "rarity" -- terms of great disparity -- showed off an authorial dexterity that's marked by great hilarity and clarity, a feat you pull off with regularity (which I mean in all sincerity).