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Monday, June 23, 2008
Woods a paper tiger compared to these guys

By Eric Raskin
ESPN.com

Arturo Gatti
You wanna talk guts? Talk to Arturo Gatti.
On June 15, after Tiger Woods' dramatic 18th-hole birdie putt secured a playoff against Rocco Mediate for the U.S. Open title, some in the media credited Woods with having "guts and courage" for not falling apart after opening the fourth round with a double-bogey and a bogey.

Hank Gola of the New York Daily News used the term "profile in courage" when writing about Tiger.

Ah yes, what guts he showed continuing to play golf in the face of adversity.

Ben Weixlmann of BleacherReport.com boldly declared heading into Day 5 that Woods' "determination and courage will be there."

My, the courage it takes to keep swinging clubs at a little white ball.

And Bill Dwyre of the L.A. Times waxed, "When he stood over the putt, he knew that making it would get him a spot in today's 18-hole playoff with Rocco Mediate. He also knew that, if he missed, his courage for getting that close on a left knee still not healed from recent surgery would be universally applauded. More so, he knew that if he made the putt, he'd have to walk another 18 holes."

Relax, fellas. We're talking about golf. We're talking about a sport that never, ever requires its participants to run.

Tiger may be the most dominant competitor in the world. He may be the most clutch athlete on the planet. He has extraordinary skill, focus and drive. And by golf's standards, his victory a week ago on a bum knee showed toughness.

But you can't use golf's standards to measure toughness. You just can't. It's an insult to anyone who possesses real courage and toughness.

More specifically, it's an insult to anyone who has ever laced up a pair of boxing gloves.

You want courage in sports?

Try Muhammad Ali fighting 10-plus rounds against Ken Norton with a broken jaw.

Try Archie Moore rising from three first-round knockdowns, plus one more in the fifth, to knock out Yvon Durelle in Round 11.

Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson
Evander Holyfield, right, could write a book on courage in the face of adversity.
Try Evander Holyfield, freshly bitten on both ears by a dangerously unpredictable Mike Tyson, welcoming additional combat.

Try Rocky Marciano, his nose split down the middle like a baked potato, finishing Ezzard Charles in the eighth round because he knew the doctor wouldn't let him see a ninth round.

Try British heavyweight Danny Williams, his right shoulder dislocated early in his fight with Mark Potter, knocking Potter out with a left uppercut while his other arm dangled lifelessly at his side.

I spoke to veteran boxing writer and historian Graham Houston, and he recalled being ringside in London for a 1974 fight between middleweights Kevin Finnegan and Frank Reiche in which fringe contender Finnegan showed what true heart is.

"Finnegan had a broken jaw; you could see it was broken, you didn't have to be an expert in medical science to see that. There was heavy blood coming out of his mouth," Houston said. "When he was hit on the chin, you'd wince at ringside. But he had superior boxing skills and he kept going because he knew that if he kept going, he could win the fight."

Finnegan prevailed via 10-round decision, earning a shot at the European middleweight title.

We've seen other warriors fight through broken jaws, such as Arthur Abraham in his first bout against Edison Miranda.

We've seen sluggers persevere through eyes slamming shut, like Arturo Gatti rallying to win against Wilson Rodriguez.

We've seen legends dig deep when badly cut, like Sugar Ray Robinson in his second fight against Randy Turpin, finding the punches to score the knockout before the ref could halt it in Turpin's favor.

Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez
Juan Manuel Marquez, left, somehow managed to drag himself off the canvas three times in the first round -- and earn a draw with Manny Pacquiao.
We've seen spiritual descendants of Moore rise from three first-round knockdowns, like Juan Manuel Marquez in his defiant stand against Manny Pacquiao in their first fight.

And we've seen no shortage of utterly humbling four-fisted wars. If you've watched the "Thrilla in Manila" between Ali and Joe Frazier, the violence between Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales or the blood spilled by Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez, you laugh at the notion of courage on a golf course, on a basketball court or in a bowling alley.

At the same time, boxing, brave though its athletes are, must be kept in perspective.

"The word courage shouldn't be used for us as athletes," lightweight contender Juan Diaz humbly insisted, "but instead for the soldiers, or people who are battling cancer or any type of disease. If I would talk about courage, then a soldier could say that I don't have any courage. They fight for our freedom. As athletes, we do it to better the lives of our family and ourselves."

Indeed, even in the sports that require the most heart -- boxing being no worse than tied for first place in that regard -- it's a stretch to use the word "courage" the same way we might for someone running into a burning building to save a stranger or donating a kidney to someone in need.

I was ringside for all three Gatti-Micky Ward fights, and frankly, I can't say for certain that what those guys did was any more awe-inspiring than my wife pushing a baby out of her body.

But in a purely sports-related context, boxers are truly special when it comes to will and valor.

"When people talk about golfers showing courage," Houston said, unable to suppress a chuckle, "they're talking about guys who are just playing games, really. With fighters, it's not a game. It's just such a different thing."

Maybe Tiger Woods is in fact the world's gutsiest, most courageous individual, and if called upon to be a real-life Rambo, he could save whoever needs saving.

But the golf course is one place where he could never possibly prove that.

Overstatement and melodrama are a sports journalist's best friends. But to confuse mere focus and desire with courage and bravery is just plain wrong.

And it's a slap in the face to the athletes I cover for a living.

Eric Raskin is a contributing editor for and former managing editor of The Ring magazine.