People like to say that it can get lonely at the top of the mountain, but I’d be willing to bet that it’s more lonely right now at the bottom, where Tiger Woods currently resides.
When he was at the top, he had everybody in the world thinking of him as near-royalty. Now? He’s like a leper, and so are the people who still root for him the way they did before his sex scandal changed the way he’ll be viewed forever.
Oh people will root for him at the course. People will follow his group when he’s in contention, and those same people will cheer for him when he hits a stiff iron shot (ignore any and all sexual puns in this column, please). Those same people, though, can’t go home and tell their friends or family that they like Tiger Woods. They’ll just talk about how they followed his group, how crazy the environment was, how loud it was when he hit a big shot.
But hell no, they don’t like Tiger Woods. That’s like saying you’re an unabashed fan of Hitler, or worse – LeBron James.
There’s a massive distinction between the people who like Tiger Woods and the people who root for Tiger Woods when he’s in contention. The only thing that falls in the middle of the Venn diagram between the two types of pepole is that they want Tiger to win on a Sunday when he’s near the front of the pack. That’s where it ends.
On Sunday, Tiger began play at the U.S. Open five strokes back of the leader, and dispelled any idea of a comeback immediately when he went six-over on his first six holes. Game, set, match. Fast forward six hours, and Webb Simpson was holding he trophy and sitting on top of the world, receiving all the adoration that he certainly deserved for surviving at Olympic Club. Yet, despite the final round of the tournament being compelling theater right up until the final hole, it was a little bit unfulfilling, and it’s not difficult for me to put my finger on why.
You see, I’m a full on Tiger Woods apologist. I’ll make excuses for him until I’m blue in the face when people gleefully tell me that “He’s all done.” I’ll argue that he’s moved all the way up to No. 4 in the world, that he’s in the top 10 on the money list, that he’s won twice this season in convincing fashion.
And then everyone will look at me like I’m a leper, too. The group of people who still actively root for Tiger, and aren’t afraid to admit that they are more than just captivated by the idea of him being in contention is a dying breed. There aren’t many of us anymore, and perhaps rightfully so. But it still perplexes me.
Even after Tiger got off to the wretched start on Sunday, I continued to monitor his scores on the computer. They stopped showing him on the TV, so I had to take matters into my own hands. Part of me truly believed that he was going to make 10 birdies in 12 holes, or something, and climb right back into contention.
That didn’t happen, and by the time the telecast was over, there weren’t too many people thinking about Tiger Woods anymore – except for me, and the other three or four people in the country who wear their Tiger stripes proudly, even if they’re seen by the rest of the world as a scarlet letter.
In 2009, when Tiger’s world blew up around him and it was revealed that he was the biggest womanizer to step on a golf course since Arnold Palmer (who everybody reveres), the public’s opinion of him blew up too. Suddenly, he became a punchline, and I’m as guilty – if that’s the right word – of piling on and making jokes.
Hide the Ambien, Tiger Woods is in contention.
Tiger is playing well today, he must have met a new pornstar before the tournament.
It was easy, and it still is easy, to find jokes in the scandal. Really, I don’t think even think there’s anything wrong with that. But I make jokes about a lot of athletes which are probably a little cruel, yet it doesn’t mean that I completely write them off as a person or somebody who’s athletic achievements I admire.
That’s where the separation happened.
It became chic to publicly denounce Tiger. Everyone decided to get up on their own mountain and form a dissenting opinion about a guy that they had been in love with just a month or two earlier. And it made sense – Tiger was exposed as being an asshole. He was cheating on his wife. He was a bad tipper. He was doing strange sexual act with anonymous women he was meeting at diners. It was easy to just say, “Wow, this guy is NOT who we thought he was, and this guy is really not a good person.”
And that’s what most people did.
I didn’t. I couldn’t wait for him to get back on the course, and I couldn’t wait for him to prove to everybody that he was still the man out there. Then, he wasn’t, and everybody who had quickly decided they now hated the guy could revel in his demise.
Something about that always seemed a little twisted to me. Tiger, the guy who won 14 majors and provided us with some of the best sports moments ever, hit a rut in his life which translated onto the course, and we all abandoned him. He deserved to be judged, it just seemed like the judgment was more harsh than was warranted.
And I think that was proven when nobody could fully commit to leaving. Sure, he probably doesn’t have as many female fans as he once did, but the galleries on the course are just a big as they ever were. Tiger is still the biggest draw, the game’s most popular player and by far its most compelling figure. It’s just not okay to say you like him.
You can watch Tiger, but you can’t like Tiger.
You can root for Tiger and justify it by saying that you want to see something dramatic, but you can’t like Tiger.
You can read everything about how Tiger is finding his swing, how he’s getting his life back together little by little, how he’s spending more time with his kids, but you can’t like Tiger.
You can put money on Tiger – making him the Vegas, odds-on favorite in every single tournament he plays in – but you cannot like Tiger Woods.
And I don’t necessarily blame you. He can be an easy guy to dislike. I just simply can’t do it. I can’t stop rooting for the guy that I had been rooting for for years and years, simply because he screwed up his personal life. I can’t do it.
You’re supposed to root for the laundry in professional sports. If the Red Sox players are unlikable, well, so what. They’re the Red Sox. You root for the B.
In golf, it’s not usually that cut and dry, but it is here. I root for the laundry, and that laundry is colored Sunday Red.
So I’ll continue on, right or wrong, rooting for Tiger Woods. In the sports world, there’s a stigma that comes along with saying your favorite athlete of all time is an adulterer with prescription pill problems who hasn’t won anything substantial in four years. I’m not trying to portray myself as a martyr, just telling it the way it is.
It’s lonely on the bottom of the mountain, too, but it’s where I belong. Maybe Tiger does, too.