Almost two months ago, Tiger Woods announced that he would have reconstructive surgery on his knee and miss the rest of the 2008 PGA tour.
Oh, what a tail spin that announcement caused.
Media personnel across the board were screaming about the damage this would do to golf. You could almost feel announcers shaking in their boots while realizing they had to become knowledgeable about players with a name other than Tiger.
Although I knew the game of gold would survive, I must admit I was worried— based on a situation I had the privilege to watch play out personally at the most recent Masters.
Andres Romero from Argentina had an awfully long putt for eagle on the second hole that would’ve taken him from the fringes of contention to the middle of the dog fight on Sunday. All eyes were on Romero as he read the putt that could’ve jumped started his day and changed the course of the tournament.
Then, something that I simply couldn’t understand took place.
People began breaking their concentration on the putt and started straining their necks to look up the fairway. At first, it was just a few. But then a slight murmur began. Almost every fan began paying more attention to what was surfacing down the fairway than Romero's pivotal putt.
It wasn’t Tiger.
It was his ball, lying in the fairway.
People were more interested in seeing where Tiger’s drive landed and how good of a lie he had than watching a potential tournament changing putt. Romero's putt didn’t drop, but in that brief moment, it became painfully obvious to me how infatuated the golfing world had become with Woods.
I am in no way saying he doesn’t deserve it, because he is arguably the best there has ever been. I was just blown away with how desperate the gallery was for Tiger to appear.
In fact, if I would’ve closed my eyes immediately after seeing what was occurring and then heard a roar erupt from the fans, I would have been unable to tell if the Argentine drained the eagle putt or if Tiger finally appeared around the bend of the fairway.
So, when news broke that Tiger was hanging up his cleats for the rest of 2008, although I was not happy at all of his circumstance, there was a small part of me that was excited to see who— any single individual or the rest of the tour as a whole— could step up and fill the void.
Well, two majors later, I’m now as excited about golf as I have ever been.
The British Open and the PGA Championship were phenomenal. It was almost as if the golf gods gave the announcers an early Christmas present by having Greg Norman play the most excellent, but most unexpected, three rounds of his life. Seeing close ups of Norman eyeing a putt gave young viewers an explanation of why he’s acquired the nickname "The Shark".
And then, Padraig Harrington's domination of the British Open's final round with breathtaking shots that bordered between boldness and baffling reminded the golfing world that it’s still a beautiful game, with or without its best competitor.
Then came the PGA Championship, and what a tournament it was. Once again, the golfing gods made it easy on the announcers with at least 4 solid storylines to fill up any dead air usually filled with Tiger adoration.
Ben Curtis’ remarkable success in this tournament couldn’t have been foreseen based on his finishes in the past— considering his best PGA Championship finish was a tie for 34th in 2005, and that he didn’t reach the weekend in 2003, 2004, and 2007. However, he played great this week.
This surprise, coupled with Charlie Wi being only 3 strokes back heading into Sunday, was remarkable considering it was Wi’s first appearance in a major. These two story lines alone would have been enough to fill most of the awkward Tigerless moments.
But, then came the reemergence of Sergio Garcia. As was repeatedly mentioned by the announcers, this was a different Serg. He wasn’t fuming after each mistake and celebrating after each beautiful stroke. And more importantly, he played extremely consistent over the weekend.
It was almost as if the golfing world was being reintroduced to someone who hadn’t quite made the first impression we had all hoped for. This was the Serg we had expected years ago.
Striking the ball solidly and confidently and until he threw one into the pond on the 16th and missed a difficult but makeable five-footer on the 17th, I think most people believed it was a coin toss between Sergio and Paddy for the win.
But once again, Padraig Harrington showed remarkable focus, calm, and steadiness on Sunday— which resulted in him hoisting his second major in a row, and third out of six. Not only has he won the past two majors, but he’s won them with at least a formidable section of the crowd rooting against him.
Although home turf brought him great support in the British Open, there were certainly several fans pulling desperately for the Shark to take one more bite out of the history books. And it felt like even more fans at the PGA Championship were pulling for Garcia to finally win his first major (14 top-ten finishes in majors without a single victory. Sounds like a guy named Phil).
However, Harrington was tough to root against. The commentators continually referenced the fact that they didn’t see him blink once during the entire back 9, literally. The drama during the final round at the PGA Championship was indeed palpable (even without the mythical Tiger Sunday surge lingering in the back of each players mind).
Now, with new players emerging and old players resurfacing, it seems like the Tour is better off because of it. When I go to watch the highlights on ESPN tomorrow morning, I’m confident I’ll actually see more than one Harrington highlight clip as we’ve become accustomed to when Tiger is in any tournament.
The purpose of this article isn’t to bash Tiger. He is, as previously stated, the most dominant golfer of his time, if not ever— and what he’s done for the game of golf has been incredible.
However, I think his absence from the course has done something for the game of golf as well. It reminded us that the PGA Tour’s slogan, “These Guys are Good,” really does apply. And maybe, just maybe, Tiger has found himself a challenger.
I get goose bumps thinking about a final pairing of Woods and Harrington on a Sunday at Augusta National. However, I wouldn’t mind seeing Sergio and Norman in the second to last pairing so the commentators don’t feel wronged by the golf god’s for lack of solid story lines.
Golf is indeed as good as ever.
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