The 1972 Watergate scandal involving President Richard Nixon and his staff has begun to trickle into the sports world some 40 years later. It helps sports journalists reference scandals in their vertical.
There was Spygate, which referred to New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick ordering his staff to video an opposing team’s sideline to steal signals and play calls. We’re now in the midst of Bountygate, referencing New Orleans Saints coaches getting busted for putting bounties on opposing team’s players, leading to a loss of high draft picks, massive fines and lengthy suspensions. The before and after photos in each case were not pretty.
Golf has a “…gate” of its own, but as the 2012 Masters showed, the after pics don’t look so bad. Call it Tigergate. Recall November 2009 when Tiger Woods redefined infidelity. The world’s greatest golfer and married father of two had sexual relations with countless number of women in a handful of different countries. Whether it was the five month break from the game that ensued, a difficult and financially disastrous divorce, bad karma, or an inability to find his swagger from the previous decade, Tiger has never recovered.
Two weeks ago, he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill to claim his first PGA Tour victory since September ’09, one month before his personal and professional downfall began. Fans and analysts alike believed he was back. I did not. Winning at Bay Hill for Tiger is like Duke winning the Maui Invitational. Yea, it’s nice, but we expect bigger things. That’s putting it nicely. Let me say it bluntly: no one cares when Tiger wins at Bay Hill or when Duke or some other college basketball super power wins a preseason tournament. We want major victories, or in the case of my comparison, national championships.
My reaction after last month’s triumph was “Great. Now show me something by winning at Augusta National.” Like Duke—which won the 2011 Maui Invitational in the season’s first breath, then went on to lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to No. 15 seed Lehigh—Woods flamed out at The Masters, finishing tied for 40th at 5-over par. It wasn’t just one bad day. He failed to shoot under par in any of the weekend’s four rounds.
It probably didn’t surprise anyone of Catholic or Christian faith that Woods failed to resurrect his career on Easter Sunday, the day of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Committing adultery is kind of a deal breaker with The Big Man Upstairs. Do it hundreds of times and your odds of winning a major tournament on His day are slim, nil and none. Just a guess. And what I’m about to say shouldn’t surprise you either.
Meaningless win at Bay Hill aside, Tiger is done. He’s no longer an elite golfer. He can’t putt from near or far and he’s spraying his driver and irons so badly that he’s back to kicking and throwing his clubs like a child, something he promised to stop doing years ago after fellow players began calling him out on it. He’s changed coaches and caddies along the way, trying everything he can to bring back the glory days. They’re gone, Tiger. They’re gone, fan club. They ain’t comin’ back.
When all his troubles started, many believed that if Woods’ game died, the game of golf would die with it. Sunday afternoon proved otherwise. Before Tigergate, it was Tiger and everyone else. Not many outside of Phil Mickelson had a fighter’s chance. Hell, not even Phil had a chance. But now, as Tiger continues to fade, it’s anyone’s game. Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood seem to be a cut above the rest today, but that can change tomorrow.
Golf doesn’t need a single hero to carry the sport as it used to. Give us some great shots—like the double-eagle on No. 2 by runner-up Louis Oosthuizen, and the tournament-clincher out of the woods by champion Bubba Watson on the second playoff hole—and an intriguing final round, and fans will be glued to their couches on Sundays.
There have been 15 majors played since Tiger won his last (2008 U.S. Open). Padraig Harrington is the only player to win twice in that span, winning The Open Championship and the PGA Championship in ’08. Golf’s last 13 majors have had a different name etched on the trophy. Parity is celebrated in every other sport, so why not in golf? The aftershock of Tigergate left the game and its fans with no choice.
We’ll never again see the Tiger of old but, as we witnessed yesterday, golf will be just fine without him.