First of all, I would never say that anything about Tiger Woods is bad for the game of golf. Any comment of that sort is very misguided. If you are on the PGA Tour or just own a driving range, Tiger Woods is helping you because his talents have drawn tremendous attention to the game he plays. He will be criticized for all sorts of things, and some of it will be in the form of nit-picking backlash as people tire of him. I don't think it will get too bad if he remains a solid citizen. I basically think most people are smart enough to just sit back and appreciate that he's here.
|Woods is only the fifth player in history to win all four majors. |
But backlash and criticism are in the cards when you exceed already high expectations as Tiger has since he joined the Tour. He has won a load of tournaments and money. He has won a career Grand Slam, and his victories at Pebble Beach, Augusta and St. Andrews prove conclusively that he has every shot in his bag. He plays shots (in majors) that most people don't even practice.
Tiger is so good that we gloss over it when he doesn't win. What about the last two Masters? Jose Maria Olazabal and Vijay Singh won those, not Tiger. But hey, you can't win them all. David Duval is always called the No. 2 player in the world and is considered to be just a notch below Tiger. But he hasn't won in a year. So Tiger is not the only one who gets a break now and then.
With Tiger, we love to watch when he dominates, when he blows away the field. Any loss is forgiven by a 10-stroke margin of victory. The ante is raised considerably at the majors, and Tiger came through this year at both the U.S. and British Opens. He was so much better than anyone else that it was hard to fathom.
Thanks to this remarkable success, the intensity of focus on Tiger Woods will only increase. He will eventually, if he hasn't already, rise to the "love him or hate him" status that certain teams and players achieve. People will tune in to see how badly he beats the field because they love him. Some people will rush to the tube when word gets out some Sunday that he is losing because they like to see the big guys fall.
This yo-yoing of interest may be tough on the TV ratings of events that he does not play, but the basic interest in golf will not go away just because he is not playing. He may be criticized, but that's a stretch (He doesn't play Wimbledon and always skips the Pro Bowl too!). But those tournaments will probably just try to get bigger purses. Then, while they may not have Tiger, they may still have several of the top 10 golfers in the world. These non-Tiger events may also get asterisks, as in, "Yeah, so-and-so won ... but Tiger didn't play!" And to some people that may be a negative overall effect because his absence creates the perception that those events are now lesser somehow.
I feel that the best thing for Tiger, golf and some talented golfer would be for someone else to win this year's PGA. It would take the pressure off Tiger so that he won't have to win three majors every year for it to be a success. Golf will be able to display some parity, and some talented golfer will know, as will the rest of us, that it is not pre-ordained for Tiger to win every major. But until somebody does that ...
Still, I am not worried about Tiger. He'll thrive on hearing people say what he can't do. As we have seen, he can handle high expectations. And as a 24-year-old golfer, he actually has plenty of time to improve so he can meet our ever-increasing sense of what he can do. If he played tennis, he'd already be in his prime. As a golfer, he is merely entering it.