In covering the U.S. Open, I noticed the same comments appearing on nearly every forum of public discussion.
“Why is Tiger Woods garnering so much attention? He’s playing terribly!”
Invariably, the answer is this: Because people still care about him. Like it or not, Woods will remain in the spotlight until people just stop caring.
As Tiger stumbled his way to a 13-over performance at Merion Golf Club en route to the worst major performance of his career, people questioned why Woods—the same man whose scandalous affairs fused both sport and pop culture, and the same man who hasn’t been the same on the golf course since—was still in the big spotlight.
From a purely competitive perspective, it’s not hard to understand. Woods is the No. 1 golfer in the world and has already notched four wins on the PGA Tour this year. He may not be the unbeatable force we once knew him as, but the red shirt is still getting it done on Sundays.
And of course, it doesn’t hurt to have an insanely popular girlfriend, either.
Olympic gold medalist skier Lindsey Vonn was famous in her own right before she and Tiger began dating in March. In fact, there isn’t a more popular female skier in the world.
So why is she so surprised people are beginning to think of her as “Tiger’s girlfriend?” See the answer above.
As quoted by Rachel Maresca of the New York Daily News, Vonn isn’t happy with her new spot in the limelight:
I can be normal by myself; no one notices me. But wherever he's around, we're living in a fishbowl. I didn't quite know what I was getting myself into. It's weird. But it's just something I have to deal with. He has his job, and I have mine. I just have to get used to it. Some people seem to forget that I'm not just Tiger's girlfriend. I'm actually a successful athlete. I'm Lindsey. I have my own career and my own life.
Frankly, Vonn could be the Queen of England and still be known as “Tiger’s girlfriend.” As we saw last weekend at the U.S. Open, Tiger is still at the forefront of the public eye, and that’s not likely to change any time soon.
The reasons are many, but some are more relevant than others.
First and foremost, Tiger is still winning. He may not be dominating majors and hitting the amazing golf shots we came to expect from the 37-year-old in the prime of his career, but he’s still getting it done. His four tour wins this season prove that.
But beyond his on-course performance, there’s another very real reason Tiger won’t fade from the public eye until well after he has retired. Simply put, no one wants to see the greatest golfer of his generation—or perhaps any generation—fade from greatness on terms other than his own.
Ethical opinions on him aside, Woods is still relevant because no one wants him to not be. We may complain that Sunday broadcasts are following every double bogey of his round, but in reality, golf just wouldn’t be the same without him.
Because as much as the world No. 1 fails, we still expect him to recover. “If anyone can do it, Tiger can.” You may not agree, but it’s alarming how often that sentiment is expressed when Woods takes to the course.
The aura of greatness that has surrounded Tiger throughout his career, though slightly tarnished and noticeably dimmer, is still very much alive. Whether we like it or not (and let’s be honest, many still do), Tiger is the golfer everyone turns to when a lead seems insurmountable. When the course is playing ridiculously hard. When it can’t be done.
For now, at least, Woods is still the guy to do it. Until the greatest golfer on the planet proves he can no longer win, he’ll be the golfer we all look to for a taste of the improbable. He’ll be the man we expect to conquer what can’t be conquered.
Vonn’s comments only magnify all of those ideas. No matter what she does outside away from the set of the Tiger Woods Show, it’s always going to be his production—at least until he proves he can no longer be the golfer who provides the chance of seeing the impossible every single weekend.