I know that it’s popular right now to sort of kick the 14-time major champion when he’s down and “beat a dead Tiger,” but I think there should be some optimism for Eldrick right now.
Sure, the US Open allowed Rory McIlroy to not only steal some of his thunder and snap some of his records, but it blew in a new wave of “the next Tiger Woods” talk, and we tend to only do that “the next” anointing when “the previous” is past his prime.
And Tiger’s injuries haven’t healed enough to the point where we expect to see him on the PGA Tour, let alone as a contender, for the season’s final major.
But from what we’ve seen after nearly two full rounds of the British Open, I think Tiger has to be smiling a bit.
No one has run away with this championship and the “golden boy” McIlroy is not following up his historic US Open win with anything near another historic British Open performance the way Tiger did back in 2000.
From a larger perspective, although Thomas Bjorn’s redemption, Miguel Angel Jimenez’s stretching and Tom Lewis and the amateur spirit have been interesting stories, this tournament has been pretty boring so far.
When Tiger announced that he wasn’t playing in the US Open, I didn’t think it would ruin the intrigue of the event. And mostly because of McIlroy, it didn’t. So I tended to believe the same thing when Tiger announced he wasn’t playing at Royal St. George’s.
I guess that’s only a one-time situation: The Tour can retain tremendous appeal through one sans-Tiger major, but not two.
Remember a decade or so ago when there was a sense that Tiger’s peers didn’t like him because he was either too cocky or too good or too much of a celebrity? Well, they may not have liked him, but they had to like what he was doing for the sport and for their bank accounts: Tiger’s popularity made golf more popular, added more mainstream interest and helped increase TV ratings, purses and everyone’s endorsement prospects.
Without him, those won’t necessarily tumble, but I don’t expect winners’ checks or golf’s popularity to keep soaring.
Sooner or later, Tiger is going to return, and for the most part, fans were going to welcome him back with open arms. But so too should the rest of the players on Tour.
And given everything that’s happened to Tiger in the last two years, he should feel thrilled about being wanted again.