Both breathtakingly beautiful and brutally beastly, few creatures in the Animal Kingdom can match the tiger in terms of sheer majesty and grandeur. The stripes that decorate their distinctive gown strike both wonder and fear into the hearts and minds of those who gaze upon it like nothing else that can be found in nature. With a size that allows it to look down even on its kingly cousin the lion, the tiger proudly takes its place as ‘Top Cat’ with grace, elegance and seemingly unreplicable style.
But there was once a time when this was also true of a man.
A man so powerful that he could crush a golf ball some 400 yards when the winds submitted to his divine will, yet so refined that he never once darkened his visor with what we humans call “sweat”.
A man so frightening that those who stood between him and the top of the leaderboard played dead as they prepared for him to pounce on Championship Sunday but so polished that his luminous grin never showed their blood.
A man so recognisable that one would have to go thousands of miles into darkest Siberia to meet a toddler that didn’t know his name and so likable that even his African and Asian heritage could not stop his rise to the top of the world.
A man who was, quite simply, King. To his family, he was Eldrick. But to his subjects, he was Tiger.
Tiger Woods was a sportsperson like no other before him in almost every area. Physically, he had trashed the stereotype of the bright panted, pot-bellied golfer with a frame bordering on the peak of human capability. Publicly, people spent their savings on standing for hours beside a bunker hoping to have their eyes hurt from the glare of the sun off his shining 9-iron. Financially, he rewrote the rule book on the earning capabilities of athletes with a list of endorsements longer than one of his drives down the fairway.
But for some 7 years now, this has not quite been the case as revelations about Woods’ private life tarnished his mystique and squeaky clean image. In the same way that a boy truly becomes a man the moment he realises that Superman can be beaten with a small clump of luminous green rock and that the middle ingredient in Hulk Hogan’s routine of “training, eating your vitamins and saying your prayers, Brother” may be a little more than Omega 3 tablets, Tiger became Human very quickly in the eyes of the world.
This coincided with a distinct fall from grace on the course for Tiger, too, as despite the old adage of “nothing being more dangerous than a wounded animal” coming true when Woods won the 2008 US Open on one leg, injuries have blighted his career since then and he has failed to win another major title and only flirted with any kind of consistent form.
Just a few weeks ago, Woods carded his worst ever round of +12 and admitted that he was “embarrassed” by his recent performances; deciding to take an indefinite break from golf to get his body, and his mind, back on track once again.
The coverage of this was predictably hyperbolic, as Sky Sports speculated as to whether Woods would “come back from his latest injury better than ever” with a melodrama that has surrounded Tiger since he made his first TV appearance sinking trick putts at the age of 3.
Yes, he is the only man ever to make a serious challenge to Jack Nicklaus as the greatest player ever to pick up a golf bag (and then immediately hand it to his lackey caddy, of course) but I don’t think it is disrespectful to say that this is starting to wear a bit thin. The same recycled story has been circulating for several years now and it is the Woods narrative of injury, hope, injury, hope, injury, hope, that continues to dominate golf discourse in an era where this really should not be the case.
Golf has moved on from Tiger Woods, but the media certainly has not.
During Tiger’s prime, an article was published posing the question “Is Tiger Woods Good For Golf?” as all the spotlight was on the American whilst his peers were seemingly just fighting for second place every week. The article concluded that Tiger was good for golf because of the sheer quality and interest that he brought to the sport, but not without serious deliberation. TV audiences fell dramatically during his early career injuries and the guy was producing saliva inducing witchcraft with a golf club week after week in a style that simply had to be enjoyed and admired for what it was while it lasted.
Now that the performances have waned yet the fanfare remains, I’m not so sure that this is still true.
Of course, Tiger has the talent and the potential to make me look a bit silly if he does indeed come back from this injury better than ever to claim his fifth green jacket at Augusta National in a few months and I really hope he does as a fan of seeing the best sportspeople in the world expressing themselves and sharing their incredible gift with audiences.
But, for now, I can’t be the only person who thinks that a time away from the spotlight can only benefit both Woods with some relieved pressure and golf in general by giving his peers some of the credit they deserve.
Just for one major tournament, I’d like to see the unexpected Thursday leader come off of the course and be able to enjoy their moment without having to be reminded in an interview that Woods has not led the Masters after the first round in each of his previous wins and be asked if they’re worried he might be lurking in the grass waiting to strike.
Tiger was a wonderful athlete and it is likely that we may never see another golfer dominate for such a long period as he did in the early 2000s, but to continue to talk about him in the way that we do is only counter-productive to the game. Golf, though a game about individuals, should never only be about one man.