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Better Than IMAGINED
Frank Deford
December 18, 2000
In the history of sport, has any other athlete burdened by heavy expectations not just lived up to them but also exceeded our wildest projections? Only Tiger Woods, dream beater
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December 18, 2000

Better Than Imagined

In the history of sport, has any other athlete burdened by heavy expectations not just lived up to them but also exceeded our wildest projections? Only Tiger Woods, dream beater

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MUSICAL INTERLUDE: Trumpets and flourishes

INTERVIEW LOCATION: A franchise pro shop in Malltown, USA

Sure we love Tiger Woods. We adore him. He da man. But enough. What about the fans who support the Gameā€”us, the Worldwide Gallery?

What are we going to do about him? Is there a certain point at which he starts to ruin things for us, when he gets so good it's boring? We have to think about this. Has anybody in any sport been this much better than everyone else? Maybe the Babe when he was hitting more home runs than whole teams. But that's the point: He wasn't the whole damn team. He couldn't control the game on his own. Maybe Joe Louis, when every month the best they could do was dredge up a new palooka. Maybe the Great One, maybe Michael. But, hell, even Michael wasn't that much better than Magic or Bird. Tiger is alone. Before this year we thought he might be "the next Jordan." No longer. The way we see it now, it is Jordan who is "the previous Woods."

Tiger's old man said Tiger was going to be Gandhi. Wrong. Gandhi was special, sure. But Buddha and St. Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther King...all in the Gandhi mix. A better analogy: Tiger is da Vinci. Nah, scratch that. Good as da Vinci was, he had Michelangelo at his shoulder, No. 2 with a bullet. Robin Hood had William Tell, Beethoven had Mozart, Oprah has Martha. But Tiger? He's all alone; nobody else in his line of work has ever been on the same fairway.

Maybe we bought into him too fast. After all, we made Nicklaus earn our affection. We even resented him at first. Fat Jack. Remember that? Tiger? He is the American Prince William. We watched him grow up, waiting lovingly for him to take the throne. Has an athlete ever been so ordained? Then he not only lives up to our expectations but also tops our impossible dreams. Tiger Woods, dream beater.

So what fun is that? How many times can we depend on somebody named Bob May to catch lightning in Jack Fleck's bottle? We're all rooting for Tiger to win every major by 17 strokes, to win every tournament in the Northern Hemisphere. (Is Thailand in the Southern Hemisphere? Whatever.) Yes, absolutely, we are into excellence, but we have to admit that deep in our dark souls most every one of us now longs for the day when the kid misses a cut or shoots an 80 or even pulls a Van de Velde. Just once, humbled. Do you know, in the London betting shops, he is 3-2 to win the Masters next April and 16-1 to sweep the Grand Slam? Excuse us: only 16-1 on what was inconceivable.

We are not mean-spirited, you understand. We love Tiger Woods. It is only that we are human, and you need human stuff on the golf course. Otherwise it all becomes one of those standard golf jokes in which Moses and St. Peter and Mohammed are trading miracles in a five-buck Nassau. Has Tiger made that a foursome?

MUSICAL INTERLUDE: A sample of the sappiest of the Mantovani-type fluff played by all networks on their golf telecasts

INTERVIEW LOCATION: Media bar, Sunbelt.com Open

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