Less than two months ago the games pundits were suggesting that a major won during Tiger Woods recovery from knee surgery would need to be marked with an asterisk indicating that the worlds No. 1 golfer was not participating (and presumably that Tiger would have won the tournament if he had played). However, the path to such self-righteous sensationalism was obscured, twice, by a major champion who seems to possess a certain every man quality.
Padraig Harringtons rally at the PGA Championship, from being three shots down to Sergio Garcia at the turn, was a testament to his drive and determination. Lets face it: Harrington does not have one of those PGA TOUR-like swings that people marvel at. Harrington does it on pure guts. He literally outworks the competition. On the back nine on Sunday, Harrington shot a 32, the same number he posted on the back nine during the final round at Royal Birkdale, when he successfully defended his Open Championship title. The putts he made on the 16th at Oakland Hills (12 feet) for par, to catch Garcia and Ben Curtis; the 17th (10 feet) for birdie and the lead; and then the crescendo on the 18th (15 feet) for par and a two-shot margin, were nothing short of spectacular.
I think I was willing them into the hole at that stage, noted Harrington. Even more telling was this glimpse into a major champions mindset when he said, You have to get focused and give it a go.
If all of this sounds eerily similar to the mental armor of the last man to win the Open Championship and PGA Championship in succession, Tiger Woods (who did it twice, in 2000 and 2006), then such an observation was not lost on his fellow competitors who once again had to stand back and watch the Irishman kiss the trophy.
Thats Tiger-like, right there, observed Curtis.
But as to the now ridiculous presumption of employing an asterisk in Woods absence, as a starting point, it serves to ask why Tiger is given such deference. The answer is obvious: He wins 25% of the time he tees it up, and so defining him as the odds-on favorite is with merit. However, as good as his winning percentage is, he still does not win 75% of the time and it is that percentage that those vested with commercial interests in the game, like television executives or equipment manufacturers (and many members of the media), would rather be left quietly alone.
Such as it is, we live in a present day conceit. Consider how often Tiger is currently labeled as the greatest golfer of all time. Not to say that he cannot or will not catch Jack Nicklaus, he just has not done it yet. Until he does, Jack is still the greatest professional golfer of all time by virtue of having won more majors, the yardstick against which the greatest are measured.
Whats more, the idea of an asterisk flies in the face of the games history. Consider that in 1926 and 1927 Bobby Jones won two Open Championships in a row, and then did not play in 1928 or 1929. Those latter two Opens were won by 11-time major winner Walter Hagen. Sir Walter certainly wouldnt hear of an asterisk soiling his triumphs (Hagen did not play in the 1922 PGA Championship after winning it the year before, meaning that Gene Sarazens triumph is apparently tarnished).
Consider then that after Jones won the Grand Slam in 1930, he promptly retired, meaning that after such dominance, the 1931 U.S. Open champion, Billy Burke, and the 1931 Open champion, Tommy Armour, had best get in line for their portion of asterisk pie, right? Ben Hogan won the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship in 1948, then did not play the entire 1949 season due to his recovery from injuries caused by his car accident, so it would only seem appropriate that 1949 U.S. Open champion Cary Middlecoff and 1949 PGA champion Sam Snead should also expect a special marker as well? Hogan won the Open Championship in 1953, and then he never went back to the tournament again, meaning that Peter Thomsons three consecutive Open crowns the next three years should receive a similar blight in the record books?
The bottom line is that the golf takes care of golf quite well. Chirpings of asterisks nearly were drowned out by the cheers at this years Open Championship at Royal Birkdale when Greg Norman sparked three rounds of nostalgia-fueled fun and excitement, then Padraig Harrington charged up the leaderboard coming home to claim his second consecutive Open crown. How could anyone diminish his triumph when he won the very same tournament one year earlier with Tiger in the field? The fact that Harrington performed a similar back-nine charge to claim the PGA Championship, giving him two of this years four major trophies and three of the last six, could hardly be called simply stepping up while Tiger was hobbled.
Like most fans of the game, I am eager for Woods to recover and get back to tournament golf. But my excitement over such a prospect is now heightened not by a sense that Tiger will simply dominate, rather than by the anticipation that a fighter has emerged who has the intestinal fortitude to go toe-to-toe against Tiger, having done it successfully before and with the confidence that comes with performance.
Copyright 2008 Matthew E. Adams Fairways of Life
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Editor's Note: Matt Adams is a golf journalist, best-selling author (Chicken Soup for the Soul, Fairways of Life), golf course general manager and the host of the Fairways of Life Show on the PGA TOUR Network and does on course play by play for their live coverage of the PGA TOUR. To view Matt's books or sign up for his 'Golf Wisdom Newsletter,'go to www.FairwaysofLife.com.