Saturday, September 09, 2006

Image...Is Everything;
And Always Wear Red On Sunday

Tiger Woods is on a roll.

The last five times he's teed it up on Thursday morning, he and a trophy and the verb "hoist" were all somehow intertwined by Sunday evening (or, Monday, as it were).

Five consecutive victories is pretty impressive, and that includes two majors in that stretch. Thing is, it's nowhere near the all-time record of eleven straight set by Byron Nelson in 1945, and it's even one off the pace of Tiger's personal best of six in 1999-00.

Nonetheless, a streak like that brings to the forefront once again the question of Tiger's place in the ranks of golf history.

Is Tiger Woods the best ever?

It's been argued many times that the measure of greatness is the number of major championships a golfer has won. Tiger's won 12. Jack Nicklaus has 18. I think I learned somewhere in high school (probably in Heuer's trig class junior year) that 18 is greater than 12. So, no...Tiger's not the best ever.

And Jack has also finished second in majors a ridiculous 19 times. As you hear so often in golf interviews, it's certainly about the wins, but there's a lot to be said about being in contention on Sunday.

By the time Tiger's 40 years old, however, there will be a new "ever," and Tiger will be the best of it, probably by three or four majors.

I know that's a tall order, winning 10 of the next 40 majors in which he plays. But just hearing how motivated he is to get to Jack's record, I don't think he'll be satisfied with a one-tourney advantage. My magic number for him before he's finished is 22.

And I'm not even his biggest fan. Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated wrote a column a while back, stating that if you pay attention to golf at all, you're either a Tiger Fan, or a Phil Fan. There's no question as to who I'd cheer for if they're both coming down the stretch on Sunday with a chance to win. (Phil.) But it's amazing to watch what Tiger does, and see just how good he is when he brings his "A" game. It's impossible to not respect what he does and how he handles himself.

When the pros came to Whistling Straits Golf Course near Kohler in 2004 for the PGA Championship, I bought a week pass and spent more hours and walked more miles among the greatest names in golf than I could have imagined.

During Saturday's tournament round, we watched as Tiger teed it up on a dogleg left and tried to air-mail the corner with a booming drive. Well, he came up short and ended up in the rough on the spectators' side of a mound, so as we scurried up to see where his ball landed, I found myself only one row deep and about 10 feet away from where Tiger would hit his next shot. He came over to his ball and surveyed the situation, and was talking strategy with his caddie in a voice so hushed that literally no one else had any clue as to what he was saying.

But there I was. Ten feet away from the greatest sports figure on the planet, watching him hit a regulation shot in major tournament play. I don't know if I was the only one in that crowd that felt this way, but I wanted to shout, "Holy shit, You're. TIGER. Woods!!" just to confirm that it was, in fact, real.

I believe that goes against all golf spectator decorum, however, and his caddie would have probably broken my jaw. So instead I just soaked in the moment, waited for someone else to give the obligatory "you da maannn!" after he hit his ball, and continued on my way.

Tiger Woods: The greatest golfer of the next "ever."

— • — • —

In other news involving a ball that's slightly bigger and fuzzier, Andre Agassi walked off of his last competitive tennis court last weekend, ousted in the third round of the U.S. Open.

It would be hard to argue that he's the best ever in his sport, because there are others that have won more Grand Slams than he has. But a strong case can be made that he was the game's greatest ambassador, and one of its most wildly popular players.

He burst onto the scene as a brash teenager with long hair and too much neon for the prim and proper game of tennis. He got an endorsement deal with Canon where he uttered the phrase, "Image Is Everything," and won Wimbledon in 1992 to validate himself as more than a fashion plate. He would get seven more Slams.

And people took notice, not only of his tennis, but also of his style. Tennis attire started to become more gawdy, more colorful, more neon...and it was accepted.

He brought flair to a list of all-too-stoic personalities: Lendl, Sampras, Courier, Chang, every Swedish player that ever picked up a racquet.

Just when Agassi had them all marching to the beat of his drummer, he showed up at Wimbledon one year wearing all white. Somewhere along the way he lost his locks and shaved his head. And he outgrew his "image is everything" cockiness.

He played for the fans, and the fans willed him to keep playing. At age 36, after a 21-year career, his back told him no more. So he walks away as one of the game's greatest.

But the greatest "ever" is yet to be written in that sport, too. And his name is Roger Federer.

"The best things in life are free.
And the cheesiest things in life
are free with a paid subscription
to Sports Illustrated."
—Johnny Carson

4 comments:

  1. Excellent post G. THAT'S why you're on the payroll. :)

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  2. Brilliantly written. Much enjoyed.

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  3. Nice work!

    It's quite interesting how similar our opinions about sports and sports figures have been throughout the years. If I do remember correctly though... there was a Lendl / McEnroe discrepancy back in the day.

    I'd love to see Lefty make his charge next year! I'd also love to wrap that damn driver around his neck!!

    Please "let 'er rip" on the topic of the golfer who finished DEAD LAST in consecutive events, those being the European Open and the 84 Lumber Classic. Not trying to force the topic... I just enjoy hearing your voice, and it may generate some fun comments! You can say I begged for the post!

    Oh, and one more thing... is your 2006 golf average still... what was it... 83?? That's one friendly number!

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  4. Yeah, Mark...I remember hating McEnroe when he had a racquet in his hand, but nowadays if I watch a tennis match (and I don't watch many anymore), I feel kind of cheated if he's not holding a microphone. Best tennis announcer out there, hands down. His opinions and analysis just make you wanna listen to him!

    And even though I ripped on the Swedes in my entry...my favorite tennis player by far: Mats Wilander.

    My golf average has taken a hit since the 43/42 I shot at Autumn Ridge. I shot a 51 up north earlier this summer. ("buuut it was too early in the morning! annnd I was kinda hungover! annnd it was too early in the morning!")

    Or maybe I just have no business shooting 43s and 42s.

    As far as Mickelson...OUCH!! That was so painful to watch at the US Open. He'll get some more majors, though. But what a blemish to have on your record.

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