Blueprint to Being a Tiger Woods Fan During Golf Superstar's Decline

Lindsay Gibbs@linzsports Featured ColumnistAugust 11, 2015

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It is not easy to be a Tiger Woods fan these days.

After all, Woods used to be the most exciting player in golf. He wasn't just a contender every time he stepped on a course; he was the man to beat.

He's the main reason millions of people followed golf for the better part of a decade. He captivated. He transcended.

Now, he mainly depresses.

Woods is heading into the final major of 2015, the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, further from his glory days than ever.

So what are his fans to do? How are they supposed to keep rooting for a man who is a shadow of his former self?

Well, the first step is to recalibrate expectations.

Trust me, I get how difficult that sounds. It's ingrained in Tiger fans to settle for nothing less than the best. If anything, he's a victim of his own success.

From 1997 to 2008, Woods won 14 major titles and finished in the top 10 in majors 29 times. Even after his downfall began following his 2008 injury and personal scandal, he was still a factor. There was still hope.

From 2009 to 2013, he finished in the top six at nine majors. He got back to No. 1 in the world. He won 14 tournaments. 

But everything is different now. He had back surgery last year. He has changed his swing and hasn't found anything close to his form on a consistent basis over the last 20 months.

He can't be judged by the same criteria that he was in his heyday. 

Aug 11, 2015; Sheboygan, WI, USA; Tiger Woods hits out of a bunker on the 9th hole during a practice round for the 2015 PGA Championship golf tournament at Whistling Straits -The Straits Course. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

This week, Tiger is No. 278 in the Official World Golf Ranking. 

He is bookended in the rankings by Michael Hoey, a 36-year-old Northern Irishman whose best finish in a major was a disqualification at the 2012 PGA Championship, and Thanyakorn Khrongpha, a 25-year-old Thai player with zero major championship experience.

Woods is one of the lowest-ranked players in the PGA Championship field, and considering he has only three top-20 finishes in his last 10 starts, he's not exactly carrying a barrel of momentum into Wisconsin.

So start small with your hopes for the weekend. He's missed the cut in the last two majors, so that should be the first goal: making it to the weekend.

It might sound paltry and patronizing, but remember, it would be a huge success for any other player ranked No. 278 in the world to make the cut at a major. And that's Tiger's reality.

Tiger fans also need to cling to positives.

Any par or birdie should be savored. Any round in the 60s should be worthy of a party. Take signs of progress and relevancy anywhere you can get them.

And Tiger fans shouldn't limit their opportunities for happiness. Look around at the exciting younger generation taking the game by storm. It's a group that likely wouldn't be nearly as great if not for the precedent Tiger set.

Tiger's influence is all over the golf course, as Steve DiMeglio of USA Today wrote:

Woods, who won his first career major title at the Masters in 1997 when Spieth was 3, made the game cool, and that helped lure many of today's top players.

The new generation also followed Woods' lead into the weight room, listened as he and others talked about proper diets and benefited from top-flight junior programs as golf grew in popularity thanks to Woods' dominance from 1997 to 2008.

Most of all, Tiger's fans need to appreciate his fight. 

Despite his struggles, Tiger is keeping a positive attitude. He is determined to continue playing for the foreseeable future, and he is still keeping his eye on the bigger picture.

"I'm just trying to get my game better for years to come," Woods told reporters at Whistling Straits, via ASAP Sports. "I think it's fun just to compete. And every day is an opportunity to get better."

It's tempting to want a player to retire so you can maintain an untarnished memory of his or her greatness.

But really, there's something beautiful about watching an athlete who used to own the top of the mountain try to climb back up it. 

Sure, Tiger's stubbornness and delusion might be leading the way right now, but he's also showcasing a passion for the sport and work ethic that's downright admirable.

Woods could regain a hint of his former greatness this week and get on the front page of the leaderboard Sunday, but more than likely he won't. He'll probably hover around the cut line, grimace a lot and answer any good shot with an atrocious one.

That's just the reality of Tiger Woods these days. It's time for his fans to accept it—and maybe even appreciate it for what it is.