America finally found someone who can beat Tiger Woods. That man, ladies and gentlemen, is Tiger Woods. This unexpected development occurred just as many of us were not only conceding his third straight victory, at the MasterCard Colonial, but also extrapolating that he would win this week at the Memorial and again in his next start, at the U.S. Open. At that point, with five consecutive victories and on the scent of Byron Nelson's seemingly unbreakable record of 11 wins in a row, Woods would be halfway to the Grand Slam and ready to run for president. We forgot that golf is a game played by mortals and that the 21-year-old Woods is one. He's stoppable—although Tigermania may not be.
First, let's examine how Woods snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Fort Worth and tied for fourth with Paul Goydos. For three days he mastered the vaunted Colonial Country Club course as if he had pulled it out of a paint-by-the-numbers kit. With fast fairways, soft greens and no wind, pretty much everyone did. Brad Faxon put up a 63 in the first round, as did eventual winner David Frost on Friday. David Ogrin ran off six straight birdies while shooting 62 in the third round. Everything changed on Sunday, when swirling, unpredictable winds produced swirling, unpredictable results. Ogrin added 10 strokes to what he shot the day before. A self-styled disciple of the art of putting, Ogrin lost his touch, badly missing a pair of key five-footers. "The putter became a foreign object on the final nine holes," he said. "It came from Remulak."
Woods lost his distance control, which led to the two double bogeys that cost him the three-peat. He dropped an eight-iron shot into the pond in front of the 9th green for one, and then, needing a birdie at the 17th to tie Frost, he inexplicably blew a sand wedge halfway to Remulak, ran his pitch back through the green and into the front bunker, and made another 6.
Frost, a native of South Africa who has lived in Dallas since 1985, kept scrambling for nondescript pars, then holed a 25-foot putt for birdie at the 17th and, before anyone knew it, had crocheted a cunning 67 and was wearing the blinding red-plaid champion's jacket. Frost has won 10 times, but not since the 1994 Greater Hartford Open, and he racked up major trivia points last week for becoming the first player to win a Tour event in spikeless shoes. He also earned Mr. Fix-it points for adding weight to the bottom of his putter 10 minutes before he teed off on Sunday because in shortening the club to 33 inches earlier in the week he had made it feel too light.
Frost earned no points with Woods when he was asked how he felt about beating Tiger, "I don't feel sorry for him," Frost said. Reporters weren't feeling sympathetic either after Woods declined to speak with them, and his security people, going against Tour policy, closed the locker room after booting two writers at Woods's request.
Yet Tigermania continues unabated. On the Monday of Colonial week Woods made the leap from golf endorsements to the world of real money by signing a $13 million deal with American Express, which was viewed as a bit of credit card one-upmanship considering who was sponsoring the tournament. The next day he discussed the greens—collard greens, one assumes—over lunch with Fuzzy Zoeller and closed the book on a national controversy, something Woods could've done weeks earlier if he had taken the advice of Mark O'Meara and returned one of Zoeller's many phone calls.
The reality of Tigermania is that it's bigger and broader than anyone realizes. The phenomena range from little stuff—a wooded lot across the street from Colonial with the sign PARK IN THE SHADE OF THE TIGER WOODS $20 and the hawking of orange-and-black-striped periscopes called Eye of the Tiger—to big stuff like sellouts at tournaments in which Woods plays, and officials scrambling to deal with the chaos caused by the huge increase in fans, media and traffic. Two weeks ago at the Byron Nelson Classic and again last week, reporters and photographers were barred from tee boxes because of the crush, something that had never been done on Tour, except at the Masters.
The question How big is too big? had been asked only at the Tour stops in Hartford and Phoenix, which draw massive crowds. Now it's an issue every place Woods tees it up. The problem is made worse because Woods usually won't commit to playing in an event until the Friday before tournament week, giving officials little time to prepare. Grandstands, which are used to good effect at the British Open, and skyboxes may be needed behind many more greens, in addition to more security—Woods was assigned 12 marshals and two guards at Colonial—more rest rooms, more shuttle buses and more concession stands. Many tournaments are about to experience sudden growing pains, courtesy of Woods.
Financially, Tigermania has been a windfall. The presence of Woods clearly was a factor when the money the Tour receives in rights fees almost doubled in recent television negotiations. When Woods is in contention, the TV ratings skyrocket. The TV money will allow the Tour to double tournament purses, to about $3 million per event, by the year 2000. Woods has also raised the bar on appearance fees. He commanded $1.8 million—$1.3 million this year and $500,000 for appearances in 1998 and '99—to play in a one-day pro-am near Pittsburgh. Beat that, Your Airness.
The intense focus on Woods has caused the inevitable backlash among some players. Is Tigermania good for golf, they wonder, or just good for Tiger? An undercurrent of envy, sometimes bordering on jealousy, is evident. Who wouldn't be peeved when even The New York Times headlined its first-round story from Fort Worth WOODS 4 BACK OF LEADER?