Like him or not, Tiger will always be in the media spotlight

While I was spending five weeks telling you about the top golf course in each state, news was being generated in this sport we all love so much. Having read that first sentence, I was wondering if “love” was the proper word to use to describe my feelings about the game right now. Yes, it has been a struggle lately, but I digress…

The Ryder Cup was played in that five week span and we will talk about that in the future. This week we will talk about one Eldrick Woods. Tiger, as all serious golf fans know, recently won a PGA golf tournament for the first time in quite a while. Love him or hate him — and there are people in both those camps — Tiger Woods gets peoples’ attention.

Tiger came close to winning in St. Louis in the FedEx Cup playoffs. Then came the Tour Championship, and he did what many didn’t think would ever happen again. It was his first tour win in five years, but his 80th overall. That is a pretty large number. In fact, let’s look at the list of the seven top winners on the PGA Tour.

Billy Casper 51, Byron Nelson 52, Arnold Palmer 62, Ben Hogan 64, Jack Nicklaus 73, Tiger Woods 80 and Sam Snead 82! A Hall-of-Fame list for sure, Nelson won 18 times in one season including 11 in a row. Nicklaus won 18 majors, a record Tiger has always coveted — he has 14 — though by now he may have lowered his expectations.

Tiger’s win at East Lake was accomplished over a limited field, albeit a good one. Again the fact is that winning a PGA Tour event is not easy. Doing it 80 times is indeed remarkable.

So why is Tiger such a polarizing figure? Some people are impressed with his greatness. He not only won tournaments, he dominated them, like his win in the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

In that tournament Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez tied for second at three OVER par. Tiger shot 12 UNDER par to win by fifteen shots. He also won the Masters by a dozen strokes. His supporters have always been impressed with his shot making and his dominance.

Other golf fans did not like the way he controlled press conferences, commanded the bulk of TV coverage and — at least for some – his domestic problems were yet another reason not to like him.

For still others, winning TOO much was reason enough to dislike him. In this country people like rooting for the underdog, so “anyone” but Tiger became a rallying cry.

After winning five tournaments in 2013, Tiger started having back problems. He could not play much and had several surgeries. The last one involved spinal fusion. Some people do not walk well after that type of surgery, let alone being able to play golf at any level.

The guy that was always on TV during tournaments was not able to even play in them. Getting back to the winner’s circle became an unrealistic goal. Or so everyone thought. That thought has changed.

Here are some takeaways from Tiger’s win at East Lake.

First — the TV coverage. For those that don’t like seeing Tiger ALL the time on broadcasts had to be disappointed. In both St. Louis and Atlanta, there were very few shots hit by Tiger that were NOT shown.

In my opinion, that was OK. Every golf fan wanted to know if he would ever win again and most fans didn’t want to miss a moment. All the key shots from other competitors were shown – although many were not live.

The networks know who brings the viewers and Tiger brings more than any other golfer. That comes from past successes.

Second — the gallery. When Tiger hit his approach shot to #18, the gallery swarmed the fairway behind him and ringed the green. That is something you see across the pond at the British Open, but seldom here. The chance to say you were one of those people racing Tiger to the green when he won his first tournament in five years was too enticing for the fans.

When he putted out for the victory, it was “relatively” quiet. That was because most fans were trying to get pictures of the moment on their cell phones instead of applauding his accomplishment. It was a magic moment on the PGA Tour.

Third – The sympathy factor. When an individual wins often for years and then does not for a lengthy time, people tend to feel sorry for them. Let me give you an example from another sport.

Dale Earnhardt Sr. won a lot of NASCAR races. He too was a polarizing figure. His fans loved him. Others didn’t like the way he raced. Many race fans remember Bristol where he spun out Terry Labonte to win a race. His “just trying to rattle his cage” comment didn’t make his detractors feel any better.

Earnhardt won a lot of races but not the one all drivers want to win. The Daytona 500 eluded him for years. He was no longer the dominant driver when he did win the 500, but the scene afterwards was one of the iconic moments in NASCAR history.

As he drove down pit road, crew members from every team gathered to slap his hand. Whether you were an Earnhardt fan or not, the show of respect from the Nascar racing family, was something to behold.

Similarly, many golfers came out to congratulate Tiger Woods after his win, showing the same type of respect allotted to Dale Earnhardt Sr.

So is Tiger back? Is he likely to win again? Will he break Sam Snead’s record of 82 tour wins? Will he tie or break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major victories?

Only time will tell, but you can bet the TV cameras will be there to let us watch those quests.

Al Stephenson is the golf columnist for The Advertiser-Tribune.

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