The Biggest Story Ever


The Dalai Lama must be scratching his head again.

The Tibetan spiritual leader only recently discovered who Tiger Woods was after being asked about him in an interview.

We can only imagine his reaction around the water cooler at The Office of His Holiness when the news hit today that Woods is returning to golf.

“Somebody, please, what is the Masters?”

The news that Woods will return in three weeks at Augusta National was beamed around the world with such force that it’s a wonder it hasn’t knocked satellites off their orbits.

The Tiger Woods story is a worldwide fascination because his golf will be about so much more than sport now.

Woods may not be bigger than the Masters, but his story is.

Woods may not be bigger than golf, but his story is.

Woods now towers over every player and storyline in the history of the game.

That’s because people who don’t understand or follow the game care more about how his story turns out than they’ll care how this Masters turns out.

The Masters is known for its spectacular finishes, but this one will be remembered for the spectacle of its start. And we’re not talking about Jack Nicklaus’ and Arnold Palmer’s ceremonial first tee shots Thursday morning. If this was any tournament but the Masters, Jack and Arnie might need helmets to protect themselves from the stampede that follows the opening of the front gates.

Ernie Els accused Woods of being selfish when he staged his public apology during the Accenture Match Play Championship. There will be players who see the same trait in Woods’ decision to return at the Masters, where he will be more protected from entertainment media and unruly fans who could make his return something ugly.

“Whenever he comes back, it's going to draw a lot of attention to that tournament and the focus is going to be on him coming back,” Stricker told media at Doral last week. “I don't know if Augusta would like that to happen, you know? To turn it into Tiger's comeback instead of the Masters tournament itself.”

Stricker is Woods’ friend, but he’s right.

If Woods doesn’t win the Masters, it might take an incredible finish to make anyone remember this Masters as anything more than Tiger’s return.

The curiosity over how Woods will respond to the challenge of rebuilding his life and reputation reaches beyond the drama framed between the ropes of a golf tournament. That's why his story is bigger than the Masters. He is Lord Jim come to life, novelist Joseph Conrad’s shamed protagonist seeking heroic redemption after a scarring betrayal of duty. Though the young British seaman at the heart of that classic story wins back his honor with the ultimate sacrifice, the story ends badly for him. The compelling lure of Tiger’s tale is the possibility that it ends well for him.

Though Woods is certain to be the target of cruel stupidity, there are millions of folks who will root for his redemption, who will eagerly encourage a man’s sincere desire to be something better.

For some, this is only about golf, about the scores Woods will post.

For others, it’s about emotionally investing in the journey Woods is about to resume, taking the steps with him because that is what being a fan means to them.

Woods is finally about to re-embark on golf’s greatest journey, the pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 professional major championship victories. Woods has four to go to tie the mark, five to surpass it.

While Woods doesn’t owe anyone outside his inner circle an apology, the idea that he’ll reach outside it anyway could change the nature of the journey. Devoted fans want to like the stars they’re following. They want to like the men who break sport’s most esteemed records. It’s the difference between making the journey something to celebrate or something to dread.

Woods changes the nature of the journey by inviting us along in some meaningful way.

Millions will be tuned in when Woods makes his start at the Masters, many of them to see if they like the guy who’s coming back.

Woods’ story will be bigger than the Masters, and stories thrive on the nature of the characters who bring them to life.

Will Woods be a protagonist or antagonist?

The answer begins at the Masters.