There is More Than Tiger


When my wife asked what I’d be writing about this week, I gave her the standard, two-word reply (“dunno yet”), which isn’t to say she asks very often. This time, however, she had a suggestion. “You should do something on [Jim] Furyk,” she offered, an interesting proposal from someone who makes a beeline for the same way some of us dive at our morning coffee.
Jim Furyk
Jim Furyk's win in Tampa was overshadowed by Tiger Woods. (Getty Images)
It got me thinking. If someone who eats tabloid journalism for breakfast is getting tired of the Tiger Woods saga, what about the millions of folks who still think of him as a 14-time major champion? The last two PGA Tour events have been won by name-brand players (Ernie Els, Jim Furyk) who were in serious need of a victory to revitalize their careers. Tigergate dumped a giant pile of buzzkill on both Ws, first with the announcement that he’d return at the Masters, then by agreeing to a pair of five-minute interviews, one of which went to Golf Channel.

In the mainstream-sports universe, the triumphs of Els and Furyk basically vaporized before the trophy ceremonies were over. America’s infatuation with Woods’ adulterous dalliances isn’t the media’s fault, nor could one characterize it as all that bizarre. A lot of people will tell you they’re all Tigered out and have been for a while, but there they are at the water cooler, discussing the latest twist in a mysterious drama that has moved at a maddeningly slow pace, fueled outrageous levels of speculation and grown exponentially because it appeals to those who don’t care about golf.

It is a massive story whether you like it or not, the sheer size of it dwarfing everything that happens inside the ropes, which is both sad and unhealthy. Woods’ dominance as a golfer might have driven the game’s popularity, but it came with a dangerous downside – an alarming shortage of transcendent interest in the non-Tiger product. Golf is a niche sport to begin with. Without its best player, it becomes a struggling niche, and when that same guy is reeling in all the headlines without hitting a shot, you begin to realize the competitive element is doing very little to grab the public’s attention.

Woods will return for the Masters and TV ratings will go through the roof, and for five or six days, golf will thrive in the backdraft of Tiger’s comeback. It’s a sucker pin if one ever existed. Woods probably won’t be seen again until the Players, then perhaps six weeks later at the U.S. Open, and for lengthy periods between his appearances, the PGA Tour will fight to remain somewhat relevant.

There was a point earlier this season when Phil Mickelson was supposed to help us forget all about the fire hydrant and its intense reverberations. Philly Mick’s 2010 debut at Torrey Pines didn’t go as planned, however, and in five starts, his best finish is a tie for eighth. Nobody else moves the needle, not to the point where it will land a Honda Classic or even a World Golf Championship on SportsCenter before the first commercial break.

Els? Nice guy, 61 victories worldwide, including three major titles, and by virtue of his playing the best final round on the Tour this year to win at Doral, he became a really good story for the masses – the father of an autistic child who struggled after his return from knee surgery and has, more than anyone, had his career aspirations compromised by Woods’ greatness.

I wrote about Els the following day for this Web site, but a couple of hours before its schedule Tuesday posting, word of Woods’ plan to return at Augusta National surfaced. I immediately called my editor and asked him if he needed me to rewrite. He was good enough to let me make the call, and after a short deliberation, I told him I wanted the Els piece to run. It was about golf, about a deserved champion of a big tournament, and besides, there would be plenty of others who would weigh in on the Mother of all Comebacks.

John Hawkins appears on Golf Central every Tuesday at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET and on the Grey Goose 19th Hole every Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.

My guess is, the Els story didn’t get nearly as many hits as the latest on Tigergate. I’m cool with that, although I definitely wish that wasn’t the case.

Furyk? Another nice guy, 14 victories on Tour, one of the most down-to-earth, “normal” dudes out there. He’s also one of the most consistent players of his generation, but Furyk’s triumph at Innisbrook last Sunday was his first since the summer of 2007. Right around the same time he was tapping in for a bogey to defeat K.J. Choi by a stroke, Woods was being seen on two networks taking questions for the first time since he smashed up his life Thanksgiving night.

Since he’s clearly in a blame-me mode these days, I suppose we could find Tiger at fault for monopolizing golf’s spotlight for the last four months. Just as the world’s best golfer should have thought twice about his illicit behavior, there are a lot of Tour pros he made wealthy who should have started beating him a long time ago.