Tiger Woods: Transcending a Generation (Part Five of a Six-Part Series)

jonathan staub@JStaubSportTalkCorrespondent IApril 8, 2009

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 29:  Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the 12th hole during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge on March 29, 2009 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Quick, who won the FedEx Cup last season on the PGA Tour? No answer?

Well then surely you noticed that Padraig Harrington won back-to-back major championships at the British Open and PGA Championship...right?

How bout the U.S. winning the Ryder Cup for the first time in 10 years?


Did anyone notice these things?

If you missed the second half of the PGA season, don’t get down on yourself…you are not alone.

The fact of the matter is that the casual, and even somewhat committed, golf fans have trouble tuning in to a Tiger-less tournament. It’s safe to assume that 99 out of 100 golf fans could tell you about Tiger’s courageous and inspirational U.S. Open victory over Rocco Mediate on a torn ACL.

How his grit and determination in the face of adversity was fueled by his merciless desire to be the greatest golfer that has ever lived.

How on one leg he played an extra 18 holes, and then some, to overcome a crowd favorite who had everything to gain, and nothing to lose, to keep his date with destiny.

How he etched his name into the annals of time with the single greatest performance anyone has ever seen; considering the circumstances that may be a valid claim.

Does that sound familiar to anyone?

All things considered, Tiger has earned the hype and glorification that comes with being an athlete that transcends his sport and generation.

Tiger has joined a select fraternity of athletes that can make stake to that claim. Ruth, Ali, Jordan and Tiger; it’s a very select group of elite athletes whose images and performances will live on long after we tell stories to our grandchildren of their accomplishments.

Jordan’s performance in the finals with the flu, Ruth’s Herculean home runs, Ali’s religious persecutions and famous shuffles, and now Tiger’s torn ACL.

While these are the stories that will live on as long as sports are played, let’s get back to golf.

I ask you again, did anyone notice what happened in the second half of the PGA season last year?

Did anyone notice that Padraig Harrington quietly became only the seventh player since 1960 to win back-to-back majors in the same season?

Has anyone noticed that he now has three major titles in the past two seasons, including back to back British Opens, to tie Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson for the most major wins (three) since Tiger burst on the scene in 1997?

For the record, there have only been six multiple major winners since Tiger’s debut in 1997; Reteif Goosen, Mark O’Meara and Ernie Els have each won two majors since 1997.

I guess in retrospect it’s hard to realize this when Tiger’s 14 majors are only one less than these six men combined...but who's counting.

Did anyone notice that Vijay Singh won the $10 million FedEx Cup? Did anyone notice that he is playing his best golf since dethroning Tiger from his number one world ranking?

What about the U.S. and that first Ryder Cup in 10 years. No one noticed that they won only their second since 1993, and fourth since 1985?

Okay, how about this...

Did anyone notice that the U.S. ended their futility in the Ryder Cup without Tiger Woods?

I bet you’ll find more people that know the U.S. won without Tiger than that it was their first win in 10 years, if you found anyone that noticed of course.

What does all this mean for the future of U.S. golf?

Quick, can you name me a member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team other than Phil Mickelson?

Having trouble? How about Stewart Cink, Jim Furyk, and Justin Leonard?

The astute golf fan would have perhaps known these individuals, but how about Chad Campbell, Boo Weekly, Ben Curtis and Steve Stricker?

You might get a couple of those with a blind guess, but it is very doubtful that even the astute golf fans would have gotten all of these players so far.

What about Anthony Kim (who finished second in the FedEx Cup mind you), J.B. Holmes, Hunter Mahan and Kenny Perry?

It is very doubtful that unless you are a hardcore golf fan, you would even come up with those names...let alone know that there are that many people on the team.

The fact is that we are not going to talk about how these individuals beat a strong European team. We are going to talk about how this team won without Tiger Woods.

In the end, the story still gravitates back to Tiger.

Let’s not gloss over this Padraig Harrington situation though.

Phil Mickelson made a run at Tiger, winning a major in 2004, ’05 and ’06, but has dropped off a bit since.

Before him it was Vijay, who won only one major, but overtook Wood’s in the rankings. Will we remember his stellar play or high win season? No, we’ll probably remember that his run was during a two-year stretch where Tiger was tweaking his swing...so his game was off a little bit.

Now, perhaps, we have a real challenger.

Padraig Harrington has emerged as the most recent competition to Tiger Woods’ dominance, but how legitimate of a threat does Harrington pose?

We will soon find out as the Masters, one of golf’s truest gauges of talent, is a mere few days away.

In the 16 majors since 2005, the year Woods was finally comfortable with all his adjustments and new swing, Harrington has missed the cut in six majors and skipped one other; he skipped the British Open in 2005 and missed the other three major cuts that year.

Harrington finished outside the top 25 in three others (two were Tiger wins, and another was a Tiger third place finish).

In the nine majors that Harrington has qualified for, he has averaged just better than a 16th place finish (15.6).

Harrington has also failed to show any kind of consistent play; Harrington finished 36th in the U.S. Open, won the British Open, finished 20th in his next tournament, won the PGA Championship, missed the next two cuts he attempted and finished 55th in his final tournament of the season.

But again...who noticed.

If you want to talk about consistency, the thing that makes Tiger so good, then you just need to look at Tiger during that same time period.

Over the course of those same 16 majors, Tiger missed one cut (his first in eons) and averaged better than a third place finish (2.5). Tiger finished outside of the top four once in those 15 majors he qualified for; that was a 12th place finish at the 2007 Harrington-won British Open.

Last season Tiger played in six tournaments. He won four of them, won a major, was runner-up at the masters and fifth in his other tournament.

He was in intense discussions for player of the year, along with Harrington, all season (playing in only six tournaments mind you) and held the lead...THE LEAD...on the money list with two tournaments left in the season.

Harrington’s inconsistent play almost negates any validity to a statement claiming that he is a threat to Tiger’s throne. However, his three majors in two years can not be ignored.

The fact is that we will not remember anything other than Tiger’s U.S. Open, and then his season-ending surgery. In essence they might as well have canceled the rest of the tour season, as interest dwindles when Tiger is not present.

Let’s face reality though, Nike has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into a golf department that is based solely on Tiger Woods. Clubs, balls, clothing, bags, shoes, you name it they created it based on their ability to sign Tiger Woods to a contract that topped $100 million.

Tiger is a walking swoosh, and for a company the size of Nike to start an entire department based on the specifications of one athlete shows just how highly Woods is regarded.

Gatorade Tiger...I don’t’ know if I need to say much more other than that this hydration king has had Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter and a list of other elite athletes under endorsement deals, yet they decided to invest over $100 million in Tiger and create his own flavors, and brand, of sports drink.

Woods has been valued with near $1 billion in endorsements from Nike and Gatorade to Accenture Insurance, AT&T, MasterCard, Buick, and Gillete (where he stars with Roger Federer and Thierry Henry, two other athletes who have dominated their respective sports for multiple years now as they close in on their sports most hallowed records) among other things.

I even hear that he is going to come out with his own line of diapers, “for kids on the prowl!” Okay, so I made that last one up, but would anyone be surprised at this point with all he endorses?

For those of us that watched the match play championship, how great was the commercial of Tiger tying his shoes while whistling “Eye of the Tiger”?

The only words in the whole commercial were when the picture went black and “He’s back!” flashed across the screen.

Absolutely priceless.

Tiger Woods is a billion dollar conglomerate in and of himself. He is his own brand, and he deserves every bit of it. He is a role model for children and adults alike. He is not flashy, he says all the right things, he is gracious in victory and he is humble in defeat.

He has shown that he is a family man with strong moral values and is not afraid to show his emotion. I know I’ll be telling my kids about him breaking down in his caddy’s arms after winning the first major after the passing of his father.

Tiger has provided us a lifetime worth of memories already. He has drawn countless numbers of people to golf. Who knows how many people picked up a golf club for the first time saying, “I want to be just like Tiger.”

If Tiger Woods were to walk away from golf today to focus on his family he would be heralded as the greatest who ever lived.

His passion to break Jack Nicklaus’ major wins record will not allow him to do so.

Records aside, he will still be regarded as the best ever. Golf will go on, they will still hold four majors a year. the Fed Ex cup will go on, the match play and players championships will go on and the world will still turn...but will anybody notice?


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