Tiger's dominance good for the game
By Jack McCallum
Originally posted: August 28, 2000
I grew up in an era when the Yankees, the Celtics, the Packers, the Canadiens, Jack, Arnie, Rod Laver and the United States of America won everything, and parity was just one of the ways to misspell what Mad magazine did. It was a sad day in my book when parity became a working concept in the world of sports. The NFL is particularly bullish on parity, setting up its annual schedules so the also-rans have a chance to run with the rans, which explains why you look up in November and everybody is 6-6, with the exception of the Cincinnati Bengals, who are 0-12.
But here we go, back to the future. Pro golf, hamstrung by parity not long ago, has been taken over by a single force of nature, a man who yesterday won the NEC Invitational by an absurd 11 strokes. Eldrick (Tiger) Woods has become a caddied and cleated Robocop, bloodlessly cutting down whatever evil lurks in his path, be it Ernie Els or Sergio Garcia (who, incidentally, has a better chance of eating paella with a pitching wedge than he has of beating Woods in tonight's televised Battle at Bighorn). Woods is in fact overshadowing everyone and everything in sport, displacing pennant races, preseason football and the college football pools from the top of the sports pages. Heresy of heresies, Woods has become bigger than even Michael Jordan, who -- after all -- played a team sport and every once in a while had to share a headline with a Scottie Pippen or a Dennis Rodman.
You know what? I think it's great.
Rather than a head-scratching dilemma for the poobahs, domination in sports is a good thing. It provides a focus, a line of debate. In my day, you either loved the Yankees and watched them with reverence, or you hated them and watched them with the hope that they'd get their asses kicked. (Personally, I hated them.) Same thing with Woods. He's brought hundreds of thousands -- dare I say millions? -- of new Tigerites into the game. At the same time he's turned off thousands of others who feel they may upchuck the next time they hear his overexposed name.
Then, too, no enterprise in sports needed to be taken over as much as the PGA Tour, where for too long there had been a sense of smug complacency. Far too many players had won far too much money for finishing 30th week after week while doing very little to get better, to get to the next level as is supposed to be the goal. Why should they? In most sports, finishing 30th means you're the Los Angeles Clippers; in golf, it means you're a millionaire with a condo in Maui and a portfolio that would embarrass a Rockefeller.
Well, that complacency is a thing of the past. Rather than just beating the also-rans, a group that currently includes everybody that's not him, Woods is positively shaming them. The fact that Tiger is so mentally tough and physically fit has come to mean that everyone else is lacking in those departments. It may not be fair, but that's the way it is. You can sense the frustration among the players. They've run out of nice comments about Woods. They're getting testy when they shoot 66 and every question is about Tiger's 65. Fans, media, sponsors -- nobody cares about anyone but Woods. Phil Mickelson, you're no longer The Best Player Never to Win a Major; you're now Left-Handed Dirt in Tiger's Cleats. Els, Sweetest Swinger in the Game and All-Around Good Guy? No more. Now you're the Blonde Bozo Who Finishes Second. El Nino? You're El Nada.
The players have to realize (some of them no doubt do) this is a great time to be teeing it up. Thousands of fans are ready to herald the guy who comes out of the Woods and challenges Tiger week after week. A friend of mine who considers televised golf the most stultifying form of entertainment on the face of the earth couldn't leave the couch last week as Bob May dueled Woods down the stretch in the PGA. "Come on, beat him, beat Tiger!" he yelled. "Tiger must fall! Hey, what's this other guy's name again?" See? Beat Tiger, and everyone will be asking about you.
Originally posted: August 28, 2000