A month or so ago, Tweetdeck informed me that Luke Donald was now the world's number one golfer. Not because he'd won a Major, mind, but because he'd consistently and conservatively shunted the ball around on the PGA and European Tour and had a better points average than Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood, his closest challengers and the brace of golfers who have also occupied the number one spot since Tiger Woods annus horribilis finally caught up with him and saw him topple off the perch he'd occupied for what seemed like eternity.
Despite the moralist in me thinking that Tiger has got what he deserved for treating his wife and kids like baubles while he was out sh*gging every trashy platinum blonde with a pulse, the golf fan in me died a little when this news was announced. I don't care how good Luke Donald's short game is, or how nice he is, or how good he looks in Ralph Lauren commercials or even that he is European, because he is boring. Tiger Woods might be a poker-faced monosyllabic whopper the moment he steps off course and in front of a camera, but on it he is a fist-pumping, wedge-slashing, clutch-putting phenomenon who lights up every tournament he enters, even when he plays like a 24-handicap taxi driver from Slough.
Four years ago this month GolfPunk, the magazine I edited, ran a cover story entitled ‘A World Without Tiger: What if Woods Had Never Existed’. We looked at everything; the players who would have won Majors, the effect on TV ratings, the huge financial growth that the sport had achieved because of his dominance, how brands like Tag Heuer wouldn't have touched golf with a sh*tty stick and every other aspect of how golf would be different without Tiger.
At the time, Woods had 12 Majors, and the idea of the sport without him as the dominant force was simply unimaginable. As a person, even before his well-documented descent into personal oblivion, I didn’t think much of him, in fact didn’t know much about him, he was a living, breathing cardboard cut-out. But as a golfer, whether following him around St Andrews, watching him hole 100 one-handed consecutive putts in practice or shaking his hand on the final green of the 2006 Ryder Cup in Ireland, he was a supernatural being, an icon, the chance for our generation to watch the best there had ever been, the man who would break Jack Nicklaus record, the golfer whose skin colour helped, whether he wanted anything to do with it or not, break down the archaic barriers of a sport that we as a magazine were also trying to subvert.
Tiger Woods might be a poker-faced monosyllabic whopper the moment he steps off course and in front of a camera, but on it he is a fist-pumping, wedge-slashing, clutch-putting phenomenon
As a golf fan I am a romantic, give me the beauty and brilliance of Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros over the terminator-esque qualities of Nick Faldo, but, for a time, Tiger managed to combine both. He brutalised the other players without being a metronome, he hit the ball to parts unknown and recovered, he won tournaments on one leg and he chipped that ball in at The Masters that hung on the lip for an age and he put golf on the front pages. He was, simply, exciting, and we all need a bit of that.
Unfortunately, Tiger needed too much excitement, and while I’m not here to rake up every grubby accusation I firmly believe that his loss of form isn’t only due to the finger-pointing from his car-crash personal life and the physical ailments, but because he isn’t himself anymore. Forget all of the god-bothering b*llocks, and all the cobblers about redemption, Tiger is a frat boy who never grew up and just wanted to have his cake, eat it and smother himself in it. I’d have had more respect for him had he come out and said ‘I didn’t want to get married, I was told to do it, all I want to do is sh*g a different girl every night and win golf tournaments.’
Because if he had, he might have no endorsements but I reckon he would still be the dominant force, and the players who have benefited from his demise would have had to earn the right to be number one with him around, rather than appear at number one with an asterix next to their names. I’m sure, deep down, if you asked Lee Westwood and Luke Donald they would prefer to be number two to Tiger and have won Majors than number one without.
I’m not denigrating the achievements of the players who have won things while Tiger has been away, whether injured, out of form or having treatment for sex addiction, but his funk changes the landscape of the sport. Without Tiger no one has a cat’s chance in hell of catching Jack on 18 majors and, even if Tiger the man might not deserve it, we as punters are poorer without the chance to talk about it, watch it and waste money on it.
I do, of course, love Rory McIlroy and would like to see him win everything in sight. I’d like Ian Poulter to win a Major as a reward for having the b*llocks to turn pro off a handicap of four and become one of the best 20 golfers in the world. Hell, I’d even be happy if Westy, G-Mac or Kaymer won this weekend. But come Sunday, when the final group heads out, I’ll definitely lament that Tiger isn’t there, clad in his Sunday best of red and black, to make things really interesting.
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