In 35 years of writing about the games people play, two teams — the early-2000s Twins and the 2009 Vikings — have risen above all others in providing the combination of on-field thrills and off-field personality and intrigue that should be classified as “Sportainment.”
A few stunning moments — Joe Carter’s World-Series winning home run, the Giants’ upset of the Bills in the Super Bowl — stand out, too.
In 35 years, perhaps only two individuals have given reason to wonder whether the senses were functioning properly: Usain Bolt and Tiger Woods.
To watch Bolt run away from the fastest men in the world, his only concern being whether or not he posed at the finish line, was to question your sight.
To watch Woods in his prime, while competing in the most difficult game ever invented, dominate great golf courses and golf history while playing a game with which we were not familiar was to feel discombobulated in a different way.
Bolt is physically superior to his competition. He lifts and plants his feet at the same pace as smaller men, while employing a much longer stride. However much training and willpower contributed to his excellence, he was built to dominate the world of sprinting while in his prime.
Woods’ dominance had different roots. He hit the ball farther than most golfers, but so did John Daly. He putted brilliantly, but so did Loren Roberts and Brad Faxon. His short game was inventive, but so was Phil Mickelson’s.
Woods took control of the golf world through willpower. The willpower that prompted him to rise at 5 a.m. to do workouts no other golfer ever had considered. The willpower to spend more time on the range, to change his swing even after rising to the top of his sport, to beat down the competition in the pursuit of victories, and majors, and endorsement dollars, and crossover fame.
Two summers ago, Woods was compared in this space to Mike Tyson — an otherworldly phenomenon who dominated his sport until experiencing a comeuppance.
Buster Douglas was Tyson’s Kryptonite. A scandal was Woods’.
As with bullies on other walks of life, in both of these cases, once the bully lost the ability to intimidate, he was reduced to a pathetic figure.
If, in his prime, one of his competitors would have offered the excuses that Woods has produced lately, Woods would have smirked, and joked about him with his entourage of enablers.
Woods has blamed his gluteus maximum for failing to activate. He has claimed he is stuck between shot patterns. He has lamented his lack of time to practice, now that he is an active parent. Today he is the struggling golfer he used to scorn.
None of his excuses explains why the golfer with one of the most reliable and precise short games in golf history spent last week skulling shots over greens like a 25-handicapper.
Woods has lost the most valuable club in his bag: His athletic arrogance.
He can no longer pretend to be superior to every man who steps on the first tee with him. He can no longer intimidate entire fields by visiting the practice range, or by leading a crowd of thousands around the course.
Since his scandal, an entire group of young players have reached their prime without ever worrying about whether they could compete with the great Tiger Woods, because this new generation never has met the great Tiger Woods.
The great Tiger Woods is gone.
Many in the new generation, especially Rory McIlroy, have benefited from Woods’ success and copied his formula. They work out hard, believe in good nutrition, hit the ball high and far, attack par-5s, surround themselves with specialized coaches and advisers and expect to win majors.
Woods holds 14 major titles. Since the late 1990s, and until just the last year or so, the most prevalent question in golf has been whether Woods could break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors. Today, as Woods takes a leave from the game after having failed to win a major since 2008, the more intelligent question is whether McIlroy will catch Woods.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at souhanunfiltered.com.