Friday, April 15, 2011

Sports Q&A: Tiger Likes Going All the Way (Back)

By Jeffrey Boswell

Tiger Woods finished tied for fourth at last week's Masters, surging into the lead with a signature charge on the front nine that gave fans a glimpse of the "old" Woods. He didn't win, but it is clear that, win or lose, no one brings drama to golf quite like Woods. The question is, can Woods be the golfer he once was?

"He's back." Woods hadn't heard those words spoken so often since the days when his mistresses would herald his arrival for seconds with those very words, back in the day when he was making more "rounds" in hotels than on golf courses.

However, it would be a bit rash to say that Woods is "back" just because of a fine tournament in the Masters. Woods has finished fourth or better in the six Masters since his last win there in 2005. He's always good at the Masters. Woods has loved many things many times, but he's loved Augusta National more than any. He knows the course like the back of his hand, or the inside of Rachel Uchitel. So to simply say that Woods will regain his dominance because of a four-hole charge on the front nine is purely a case of premature evaluation.

However, Sunday's early charge may have been the first sign that Woods can be the dominant force he once was. Sure, Woods has supposedly quelled his sexual appetite since that fateful night in November of 2009, but somebody got "laid" at the 2011 Masters. That would be the "foundation" for Woods' re-ascension to the mantle of world's greatest golfer. He may never reach that point, but if he does, the sporting world will look back to the 2011 Masters as the launching point. Woods has reorganized and rallied since his personal and professional lives crumbled. Today, "regroup" takes on an entirely new meaning than it did a year-and-a-half ago, when "re-group" probably indicated plans for another orgy.

What makes Woods' Sunday magic so monumental? No one expected it. Sure, everyone expected him to be in contention, but last Sunday, Woods was tied for the lead. And the "fist pump" was back, overtaking the "pelvic thrust" as the Woods celebration of choice for the first time in months.

Did the pressure of sharing the lead affect Woods? Possibly. A more logical explanation? It was merely a case of being out of practice. Woods has spent the last 18 months trying to forget what it's like to be on top, that he forgot what it's like to be on top, of a leader board. Indeed, Woods' latest "coming out" party at the Masters was just as shocking as his "pulling out" party, when he was forced to end his many illicit affairs. The suddenness of his downfall was matched by the unexpectedness of his Sunday blitz.

For sure, other golfers didn't wilt or disintegrate when Woods' Masters magic electrified Augusta. But why should they? It's obvious Woods isn't the golfer supplying the pressure to which they've grown accustomed to withering under, as he once was. But deep down, the top golfers know that it's a just a matter of time before the intimidation factor rears its scary head. Soon, the steely stare of a focused Woods will be the only thing on his person considered "penetrating."

Other players can disguise their fear of Woods behind veiled criticisms and empty wins over an obviously not-at-the-top-of-his-game Woods. And that could be working for those golfers as motivation. It seems to be. By that same token, it is also motivation for Woods. Not that Woods needs external motivation. Most of his motivation comes from within. But hearing golfers with no major wins, or golfers with one major win, condemning a golfer with 14 major wins must make Woods feel better about himself.

One would think that, with Woods not at the top of his game, one or two other golfers would take advantage and win multiple majors. That hasn't happened. In fact, in the ten majors since Woods' last major, the 2008 U.S. Open, ten different golfers have captured majors. Everyone has stepped up, but no one has stepped up. They've fooled themselves into believing they are playing in a "Tiger-less" era, when, in fact, they are playing in an era of "less Tiger." And they are enjoying it, while they can.

The truth is that competitors are still in awe of Woods, impressed by the sheer will of a man capable of suppressing such a legendary sexual appetite for the sake of his golf game. Woods already presents a challenge to their manhood; when his game comes around, the will of his rivals will be completely broken. He's had the women, and, once again, he'll have the major titles. Then he'll be able to declare his "glory whole." Don't forget. Woods is only 35, well within his prime, golf-wise and sexually. The only "scandal" left to mar his career would be if he doesn't win at least four more major titles.

To recapture the glory, Woods may retrain his mind and focus on vanquishing males as opposed to conquering females. He should have no trouble with this. It has often been speculated as to what Woods is thinking when faced with a challenge from another golfer or golfers. What's on his mind? Ironically, it's probably the same thing he was thinking when his next hookup was the priority over his golf game: "get some."

What's keeping Woods from a total return to form? As always, it's his inconsistent putting. Woods seems as comfortable with a putter in his hands as he does with a 9-iron in his face. He's apparently overcome his sexual maxim of "gimme, gimme, gimme." Now, ironically, he must overcome his aversion to "gimme, gimme, gimme's" on the golf course.

Woods' downfall was clearly the worst thing that could have happened to his career. But there's a silver lining. Ask anyone, and they'll tell you the reason he hasn't won a major in three years is because of that. It's an excuse. Can you imagine how Woods, or anyone, would explain such a major drought if there was no scandal, there were no mistresses, and Tiger's was a happy home? His game would truly be lost, and he would have no hint of an explanation. As it is, he has something to blame, which has to be comforting. We can speculate and say that Woods would have won three, maybe four majors. And that would have been quite an accomplishment. But to win three, four, or more majors after hitting the bottom? That would be even more impressive, and add to his greatness. Of course Woods realizes this and uses it as another motivational tool.

Woods will win another major. But it won't happen before he wins another tournament. Once he wins that 15th major, though, the swagger will be back, and thus will begin the "PC" phase of Woods' career. "PC" not for "politically correct," but for "post-coital." Once he regains the title as world's best golfer, earning the title of greatest golfer of all time can't be far behind. But even that's not enough for Woods. Now he wants to be known as the greatest golfer of all time whose career was interrupted by a sex scandal and fall from grace. No other golfer could ever make that claim.

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