Hutton: Love him or hate him, you can't stop watching Tiger
By Mike Hutton 648-3139 or firstname.lastname@example.org June 14, 2012 10:58PM
TAB MUG HUTTON Andy Lavalley/Post-Tribune ptmet
Updated: July 16, 2012 6:36AM
Is there any athlete more compelling than Tiger Woods today?
Woods is the most gifted golfer ever. He isn’t the most accomplished, but Jack Nicklaus better not close his eyes for too long. Woods, just four short of Nicklaus’ 18 majors, is lurking in a way that didn’t seem possible just six weeks ago.
People, even non-golfers, have an opinion about him. The ratings for the Memorial Tournament spiked 138 percent with Woods in contention.
The reactions to Woods’ struggles are varied.
People respect his immense talent.
But some were mortified by his promiscuous, outrageous lifestyle, which led to the breakup of his marriage.
Others were mystified by the unraveling of his swing and his public attempt to remake it for the third time in his career.
Why does a golfer as great as Woods need to tinker with his swing?
When Woods was so good that it was him against the field, I always found myself rooting against him.
He made the game appear joyless and mechanical.
There was never any doubting his ability. In 2000, when he won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by a record 15 shots, shooting 12-under par, I think Woods might have mis-hit one shot in four rounds.
It was masterful, but boring. The march to break Nicklaus’ record seemed inevitable. Now, it seems likes it’s up in the air. His divorce from his wife, Elin Nordegren, the swing changes that aren’t mastered, and the fact that the whole golfing world seemed to weigh in on every bad shot that he took add up to a burden that only he can understand.
The drama of watching it unfold is tantalizing for some of us.
I have always respected Woods’ game, but never connected with him as one of our great American athletes.
He didn’t seem to care much about reaching out to average fans, so why should I care about him? It was hard to do anything but appreciate his superior golf skills and leave it that.
I was there in 1997 when Woods, coming off his first Masters victory, came to Cog Hill and won the Western Open in spectacular fashion. The iconic image from that tournament is the throngs of giddy fans, spilling out from underneath the ropes to follow him down the 18th fairway. He looked straight ahead, never moving his head one way or another to acknowledge the massive outpouring. Looking back, it was cold stuff, but it was also a harbinger of what was to come.
Woods was an assassin on the golf course and impenetrable off it.
These last few months, though, I’ve had a change of heart.
The game needs Woods to get back to where he used to be — the guy that could beat Rocco Mediate in an 18-hole playoff for the U.S. Open championship in 2008 on one leg.
Woods has gone from being Goliath to David over the last two seasons.
And his public struggles, particularly with the way his swing has hyperventilated up and down over the years, has made him seem much more human.
I was heartened by Woods’ round of 69 Thursday in the first round of the U.S. Open.
His wins this year at Bay Hill and the Memorial were impressive, but they weren’t necessarily long-term evidence that he had found his groove. Those are comfortable courses for him — he has won the Memorial five times and at Bay Hill seven times. Woods has enough good long-term memories stored from his prior success there to figure it out without his best stuff.
The Olympic Club is different. It’s a brutal, penal course that does not suffer golfers with loose swings. Check out the 76 by Phil Mickelson for evidence. Woods made one real bad swing, a short iron on No. 14, that flew the green.
After that, it looked like the old Tiger — mowing down fairways and greens and rolling in the occasional 35-foot sidewinding putt, like he did at No. 5.
I’m not sure Woods will ever be back in the way he was before, where he had the capability to destroy fields and leave bodies in his wake.
But it’s nice to see him start to find what he’d been missing. And rest assured, I’ll be there watching to see how this all ends.