Is Tiger Bigger Than the Game

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After a long, eight-month layoff, Tiger Woods is finally back to action at this week's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. And with all the hoopla surrounding his return, one might wonder: Is Tiger bigger than the game? GolfChannel.com senior writer Rex Hoggard and editorial director Jay Coffin weigh in with differing opinions.


By REX HOGGARD
Senior Writer, GolfChannel.com
By JAY COFFIN
Editorial Director, GolfChannel.com

MARANA, Ariz. ' When you cast a shadow that fills every cactus-infested inch of the Oro Valley, youre bigger than the game. When your primary competition is ghosts and history books, youre bigger than the game. When you end eight months of surgical second-guessing with a pre-dawn paparazzi feeding frenzy, youre bigger than the game.
 
Traditionalists will howl that no one, not Tiger Woods nor the immortals who grabbed headlines before the skinny kid from Cypress started hitting 1-irons from his highchair, is bigger than the game. But pop culture demands an urgency of now.
 
The media zoo that gathered before sunrise in the Arizona desert on Tuesday didnt brave the chill for Joe the Plummer. No, the media masses awoke before dawn to see Mighty Joe One-Putt and his multi-million dollar knee.
 
To pinch a line from our favorite blue-collar comedian: You might be bigger than the game if youve played one tournament in 10 months and are still the pre-championship betting favorite. At a match play meet-and-greet no less, the most capricious of the games we play.
 
But then weve seen this cycle before. Jack Nicklaus powered his way to sporting Olympus with a steely glare and a pair of tree-trunks for legs. Arnold Palmer charmed and swashbuckled his way into sporting immortality. In 1927, Babe Ruth hit more home runs then the rest of his Yankee teammates combined, twice as many as any other major league player and for a snapshot in time he was bigger than baseball. Michael Jordan dwarfed all in the NBA, even Manute Bol, until he traded his basketball in for a smaller orb.
 
But records fade and we come to cherish the opportunity to witness greatness in its prime. We hold farewell tours and add wings to halls of fame. Finally, when the dust settles and hyperbole ebbs the game moves on. As offensive as the concept may be to some, Tiger Woods star, not his legacy, will fade, probably sometime after he pockets Grand Slam No. 20something.
 
Yet Tuesdays madness aside, there will come a day in our lifetimes that Woods resume will be weighed objectively through the prism of time, and in the rear-view mirror of hindsight objects are always smaller than they originally appeared. Woods body of work will be unquestionably great, probably the greatest ever, but it will always be one chapter in a book that does not end.
 
Its inevitable, like a failed Chicago Cubs pennant chase and middle seats on airplanes. Greatness of this magnitude comes with a shelf life, and history provides the ultimate filter. Twenty years from now Woods will still be great, but will he be considered bigger than the game?
 
Of course, the only person truly qualified to judge Woods place in, or above, the game would never entertain the thought. Woods leaves that type of out-of-the-moment thinking to others, those competitive blinders being the ultimate shroud to the big picture.
 
Just because people are writing about you and talking about you, as my dad always said, thats never hit you a high draw, a low fade or holed a putt, Woods said.
 
As the sun inched over the mountains early Tuesday, Phil Mickelson, a man that knows a thing or two about legacies, walked onto a strangely crowded practice range and allowed a Hallmark offering. Hes coming, Lefty smiled. He was talking, of course, about Woods. Given the heady happenings at Dove Mountain, Mickelson may have just as easily been referring to the march of time and the perspective that brings.
 

MARANA, Ariz. ' Never saw Babe Ruth or Muhammad Ali in their prime but Tiger Woods has to be the closest thing weve ever seen to an athlete being bigger than his sport.
 
The guy not only moves the needle, he is the needle. There are other players in the game, but right now he is the game.
 
Take Tuesday morning at Dove Mountain at 6 a.m. when more than 100 reporters and photogs from around the world were on the practice range waiting for Woods. All waiting to see the main attraction hit his first shot, Phil Mickelson walked on the range first and announced, hes coming.
 
Afterward, Mickelson said, Its pretty evident to see what he has done for the game of golf. I came here on a Tuesday practice round and as Im walking to the range Ive never seen so many cameras and photographers and so forth, especially that early in the morning waiting for Tiger to get here.
 
Its amazing to me what he has done for our sport, and for us to have the most recognizable athlete in the world playing our sport is so fortunate for all of us.
 
Now, Mickelson wasnt saying that Woods is bigger than the game but he certainly recognizes how much he benefits from Woods being on the scene.
 
The media often gets blamed for turning Woods into this bigger-than-life figure. There may be some responsibility there but the bottom line is that the media wouldnt chase the man like it does if he didnt move the needle. When we write about him, people read. When we talk about him, people listen. When hes not at an event, we still talk about him and people still listen.
 
Those saying Woods isnt bigger than the game will point to the excitement of the Ryder Cup last year, which was one of the most exciting matches in recent history, all without Woods. Those same people will mention how well television ratings did for last weeks Northern Trust Open with Mickelson in the hunt. Ill accept those and counter with the British Open, PGA Championship, FedEx Cup and most everything else that has happened in the game over the past eight months.
 
The biggest reason for Woods popularity is his sheer dominance, which is accentuated much more in an individual sport than it is in a team sport.
 
Team sports are different. Contrary to popular belief, no one person can win a game for a team. Michael Jordan needed Bill Cartwright, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman; Kobe Bryant needed Shaquille ONeal. Thus, a team player wont ever be bigger than his respective sport.
 
Woods needs nobody. Hes a one-man wrecking crew that has mowed over anything that has ever got in his way.
 
Woods is without question the most influential athlete in his sport today. But, is he bigger than the game?
 
An argument certainly can be made.

 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage ' Tiger's Return
  • Match Play Bracket
  • Match Play Bracket Challenge
  • Full Coverage ' WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship
  • Woods' wife gives birth to son Charlie Axel