Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tiger vs. Phil, or Good vs. Evil?

I am an enormous Yankees baseball fan. I am also a huge Green Bay Packers fan. My favorite athlete from each of those teams? Andy Pettite from the Yankees, and Aaron Rodgers (a seriously developed man crush) from the Packers.

But if you ask me who my all-time favorite athlete is, I will have to tell you it is neither of those two. So who is it?

Tiger Woods. Seriously.

I am not dumb, so I know that I am in the minority when I say that I love watching golf on TV.

If I had the choice of watching a Yankees playoff game, Packers playoff game, or the final round of the Masters when Tiger is in the hunt, I would choose the Masters every time.

The reasons for this are pretty simple. First of all, my family plays a lot of golf. From my great-grandpa on down to myself and my brother, a 23 year old, golf is a the one sport my family really understands. Another reason is that my dad loves to watch golf a bit himself, and I have deep-rooted memories of watching golf with my dad and brother, many of which include Tiger Woods strolling up the 18th fairway to a chorus of applause.

So you know I’m not crazy when I say that I loved watching Tiger succeed then, just as I love seeing him succeed today. With everything that happened between him and his wife, it is easy to say that he deserves the downward spiral that his career has taken. That may be true, depending on how much weight you put on his personal life, but I still want to see him succeed, for the good of the game of golf.

Without a successful Tiger Woods, golf lacks the star power that he brings to the table, the oh-my-god-did-you-just-see-that game that he has, and the semantics on the course that, whether or not you enjoy, keep you interested in the match.

Enter, Phil Mickelson. To Tiger fans, such as myself, known not so affectionately as “Lefty.”

Phil Mickelson is the anti-Tiger. When Tiger hits a bad shot, the F-bombs can be heard rolling across the course. When Lefty hits a bad shot, you may hear him mutter to himself under his breath as he calmly scolds himself. When Tiger makes a big birdie putt, he pumps his fist and ignites the crowd. When Lefty makes a big birdie putt, he tips his cap, winks at the crowd, and walks off the green to polite clapping.

Most importantly, before the Tiger incident happened, when Tiger and Lefty played together, Lefty would melt under the powerful scrutiny of Tiger’s game and demeanor. Lefty would be the “nice guy,” for lack of a better term, and Tiger the cold-blooded assassin that took no prisoners on the course, dominated opponents, and won time and time again, while good ole’ Lefty stood in the shadows, smiling and applauding, in second place.

In fact, until 2004, Lefty was known as the best player to never win a major. Tiger was already being whispered about in small circles as the best ever.

The trajectory of Tiger’s career was never higher than the 2008 U.S Open, when he birdied the 18th on Sunday and won the playoff on Monday on a broken leg. It was his crowning achievement; the pinnacle of his success, his 14th major championship, leaving him just 4 behind the Greatest Ever: Jack Nicklaus. Two days later, the news broke of the extent of Tiger’s injury, and he would miss the remainder of the season.

The next year, he did not win a major (he was in the middle of a swing change). And on Thanksgiving night, the police were called to his house in Florida, and the rest is history.

Tiger has not won a single tournament since then.

But Lefty has.
Without Tiger in the way, Lefty has won two of his four majors in the past 3 years, and done so with all the grace and bravado that made him golf’s “good guy” for all this time.

And then, the worst possible scenario happened — a Tiger/Lefty final pairing in the fourth round of a tournament last weekend.

The two entered Sunday in fourth and fifth place, Woods at -11 and Lefty at -9. I watched from my couch, smugly, knowing full well what I was about to witness: a classic Tiger dismantling of Lefty on Sunday, with Tiger eclipsing the leader and winning the tournament.

But, it didn’t happen.

And not only did it not happen, the reverse happened. Lefty calmly made 13/13 putts from 10 feet and in, where Tiger missed 6 of his such attempts. This means that Tiger, once regarded as the most clutch and dominant player in the world, was choking away on the easy attempts, while Lefty was making his.
Tiger has lost his killer instinct.

As an avid Tiger Woods fan, I still believe that he can bounce back from this funk he is in. Golf truly needs him and Lefty to battle each other each weekend. Viewership of tournaments that Tiger competes in is far higher than tournaments where he is not.

Tiger needs golf, just like golf needs Tiger. And I’m afraid that without him, golf will not be the same for me, or any other fan out there.

Is the perceived “good vs. evil” battle between Tiger and Phil enough to keep you interested in the game?

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