Are you rooting for him?
Consider the question now, when your mind is relatively cool and clear. By Masters Sunday, with the breeze stirring through Amen Corner and your blood racing, everything will look different.
You know how it stands. Jack has won the most majors, 18, and Tiger's next with 14. He's been stuck there since winning the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines on one leg on a Monday in 2008. Do you want to see Woods get to 18? Or 19? Do you want to see him get number 15 next week at Augusta?
Tiger is 37, and the Masters will be his 61st major as a pro. Nicklaus was 37 when he played his 61st major as a pro, at Augusta in 1977. He had 14 majors then too. Interesting.
Actually, it's more than interesting. It gets to the essence of why we love sports. This isn't about celebrity dating or hyperbolic Nike ads or medical reports only your osteo could love. This is about two men, two athletes, one done, the other chasing. It's Aaron versus Ruth all over again.
At this moment everything's so magnified and alive. Is Tiger's stance, the very way he stands over the ball, so much better than any other player's in the game today? Of course not. But when we watch him, on TV or in person better yet, Tiger at address looks like nobody else. The power and the confidence.
The stance looks so solid in part because it is, and in part because the golfer in question has 14 majors and 63 other Tour victories, six of them coming in the past 13 months. (Only 188 players have six Tour wins or more over their careers.) The on-off switch is back on.
If Tiger hadn't been winning, you'd look at his stance and talk about how much better it used to be. But he is winning, and the frame around that stately painting in your head—Tiger at Address—is made of three U.S. Open trophies, three claret jugs, four Wanamakers and four mini Augusta National clubhouses, all glittery and fragile.
John (as Nicklaus calls Johnny Miller in his fatherly way) likes to tell us that too much is made of the majors. He's surely correct, and you can't say enough about Tiger's 89 worldwide victories, 77 on Tour plus his 12 wins on the big league circuits of Europe, Japan, Asia and Australia. But this is where John is wrong about the major fuss: Sportswriters and broadcasters and everyday fans didn't start this chase-to-18 craze. Nicklaus and Tiger did. It matters to us because it matters to them.
As for the scandal—the stiletto parade—we all know it happened, of course. But fewer of us seem to care. It's not that winning takes care of everything, because it surely does not. The life and times of Tiger Woods, 1997--2009, reminds us again that you can collect prize money like a Vegas slot machine by day and prowl through your nights like a shark in dark waters and still wake up feeling empty. Fewer of us care because time heals and Woods is changing. It's subtle, but he is. "Golf is not the Number 1 priority in my life," Woods said after his recent win at Bay Hill. "My two little ones are."