AKRON, Ohio – Yeah, I know. I get it. You’ve only read the headline and glimpsed the above photo of Tiger Woods and you’re already ticked off.
I know exactly why, too.
The guy shot a 1-over 71 on Friday that left him in the middle of the pack at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. It was hardly the best score of the day and far from the worst. The truth is, it was remarkably unremarkable. Perhaps the most accurate description would be that of all his career rounds, this was one of ‘em.
And yet, here we are. I’m writing about him; you’re reading about him. Until, of course, you write me about him, since this topic often prompts a batch of incensed reader emails and end-of-column comments, each echoing some form of the following:
'WHY ARE YOU STILL WRITING ABOUT THIS GUY?!?!?!?!?'
My response has remained the same for years – from Woods’ on-course dominance to his personal scandal to his current state of uncertainty. It’s the reason why television ratings spike when he’s in the field, why his galleries swell to much larger than those of the leaders at any given event.
Simply put, it’s the law of supply and demand.
You demand more Tiger. We supply it.
All of which conjures a quixotic conundrum. If “you” are complaining about the overanalyzation and constant coverage of Woods, then how can “you” also be clamoring for further content on him?
The explanation is that unlike all other professional golfers, everyone has an opinion on Woods. As my colleague John Hawkins recently said, “He doesn’t move the needle. He is the needle.”
Undoubtedly, some golf fans love Woods, while others love to hate him. What’s been interesting so far this week, though, is that the balance between the two is shifting back to the former more so than at any time since his extramarital affairs were revealed to the worldwide public.
For years, the hypothetical question, “What would be the state of golf without Tiger?” was asked, but only recently has it been answered. In the past year-and-a-half, the game has become a parity party, with first-time major champions taking each of the past half-dozen titles and the world’s No. 1 ranking becoming a revolving door for terrifically consistent players who aren’t consistently terrific.
Woods himself has descended from the top spot to 28th, a downward spiral rooted in a cornucopia of personal, emotional, spiritual, physical and technical issues. He hasn’t won anywhere in 21 months and isn’t currently qualified to advance to the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Judging by the litmus test provided over the first two rounds at Firestone Country Club, while it can be debated how much the game actually needs Woods, it’s undeniable that those who are fans of the game clearly want him to return to his previous stature.
On Thursday, as he awaited his first swing in a competitive environment since withdrawing from The Players three months ago due to multiple leg injuries, it felt like Woods had the entire population of Akron surrounding the tee box, cheering him in unison.
We’ve now reached a point where the masses have witnessed the future – and they’d rather blast back to the past. Individual sports are dependent on their superstars and while the PGA Tour won’t cease to exist should Woods never revert to form, the degree of its short-term prosperity may hinge on his impending success.
There’s a reason why the Bridgestone has been the year’s most anticipated non-major tournament – and maybe just as anticipated in some circles, if not more so, than a few of those majors. Woods has transformed from the game’s greatest player to its greatest enigma, which provides intrigue in itself, but whereas fans once gathered to watch his exploits in open-mouthed awe and at times last year simply wanted to witness the circus sideshow, the current sense is that on-course spectators and at-home viewers are hoping for a return to prior dominance, because, well, it beats what we’ve ascertained as the alternative.
For his part, Woods fails to acknowledge why or how he continues to draw the most supporters, even when he isn’t winning tournaments or – like on Friday – he’s well behind the leaders.
“I think it's great they just came out, period,” he maintained. “It's great to have them come out and support the event. This is a big event and whether they're following me or someone else, it's great to have them out here.”
That’s not to say that there is unilateral patronage toward Tiger, but there is universal interest in his adventure. All of which brings us back to the main theme of this column. Why does so much golf coverage revolve around Woods? Because for better or worse on his scorecard, you care about his progression and you’re piqued as to what the remainder of his career will entail.
If you’re still skeptical, I have one last bit of proof: Hey, you not only clicked the link to this Tiger Woods-related story, you just read it all the way to the end. Case closed.