Turns out there was nothing cryptic in the license plate. On the back windshield was a Clemson Tiger football sticker. We can assume the 14 is a reference to a family member wearing that number. We used to assume that 'Tiger 14' was just a marker on the road to Jack Nicklaus. We know now it’s also a running tally of a much different, sordid nature.
And I admit I’m hooked. The saga has turned me into one of the millions of accidental TMZ junkies. Athletes beware. These Web sites that previously targeted entertainment stars have now discovered that ESPN’s hardcore audience has a sizable appetite for the busted jock.
Meanwhile, the golf media has been attacked in some quarters for putting all of its eggs in the Tiger basket with nothing to fry now that he’s gone. I don’t buy it. We covered Tiger commensurate with his achievements on the course, which were epic and unparalleled. And the viewers spoke clearly. They wanted Tiger. Network ratings doubled and cable ratings tripled when he was on.
Any time I’d ever taken a call from a friend or colleague who wasn’t near a television during a golf tournament they’d ask 'who’s winning' and 'where’s Tiger?'
Were there times when our reporting bordered on fawning? Yes. Did we miss or dismiss other worthwhile stories because we were focused on Tiger? Yes. But no one that I know called him a God. Great golfer, yes. God, no. Were we surprised to learn of the extent of his affairs? Of course. Tiger ran in a circle that didn’t include any journalists that I know of.
Over the last couple weeks I’ve done numerous interviews with mainstream outlets that want to know what happens to golf without Tiger. I’ve even read some doomsday scenarios. Golfers will watch golf with or without Tiger. The soft, casual viewer will come back when Tiger comes back, and that day will be the blockbuster to beat all blockbusters.
And I haven’t checked today’s mail, but I’ve yet to receive a letter from Augusta National saying they’re cancelling the Masters if Tiger doesn’t show. In the southern fried words of PGA Tour official Mark Russell, “We gonna play some gaff today and we gonna hand out a check when it’s all over.”
Will the checks get smaller over the next five years? Maybe. But so what. The whole world’s down 30 percent these days. If Tour pros are cashing $900,000 first-place prizes instead of $1.2 million, they’ll get by, just as NBA and NHL players are getting by after seeing their salary caps go down. Buy a Benz or a Beemer instead of the Bentley.
In the coming weeks, there could be another bombshell or two. It’s been a generous story, one that gives and gives and gives some more. And just as networks like ours profited from his rise, so many newspapers and Web sites and television programs are profiting from his fall. And when there’s nothing left to titillate the public, the comeback will begin. And there’ll be profit in that, too.
It’s how it goes.
I was shuffling through a stack of magazines and came across a cover story of another disgraced athlete. It read, 'Michael Vick Returns.'
Tiger will get there. But not right now.