Return Of The Bad Boy
It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t disapprove of his antics away from the office. Women, in general, can’t stand him. Despite all this, we can’t take our eyes off him.
Donald Trump? Maybe. But the description could also apply to Tiger Woods, the greatest golfer ever, who has made one of the more improbable comebacks the past month. This weekend renewed the public’s crush on golf’s bad boy.
Woods’ behaviour away from the course since his fall from grace in 2009 has been, shall we say, dubious. From the moment his wife Elin brought down a golf club on Tiger’s ride he has suffered through a biblical plague of problems.
Injuries that ended in spinal fusion (one of four surgeries since 2014), failed romantic relationships and an arrest for drugs last year. Plus numerous comebacks that all ended in humiliation. Until this weekend’s tournament outside Tampa he hadn’t broken par in the opening round of a PGA Tour event since his 64 in the Wyndham Championship in August 2015
He started Sunday without having won a tournament— the man has already won 79 PGA Tour titles—in four years, seven months and 10 days. He’d closed hard on Saturday on the heels of young Canadian Corey Conners. And while Conners melted in the heat of a closing Sunday (he shot a 77), Woods almost pulled off the comeback.
He lost a shot to par early on. But, after a long birdie on No. 17, his putt on 18 would’ve tied him for the lead. The putt came up just short, leaving him a stroke behind winner Paul Casey. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand the whole day— hell, the whole weekend— and they were limp as the Bridgestone TOUR B XS came up just short. No less so the NBC announcers who, if they mentioned the crowd’s enthusiasm once, mentioned it a jillion times.
It was the closest Woods came to winning since he tied for second at the 2013 Barclays, the first FedEx Cup playoff event. He has not played in that season-ending playoff series since.
Immediately, the media critics, which had buried him six feet deep, were repenting. There are now predictions that he will win this week at the Bay Hill Championship and— miracle!— the Masters in early April.
Which would be an eleven on the ten-point WTF scale.
A few cautionary notes. Woods’ demise corresponded with his inability to keep his driver in play. He sprayed it left. He sprayed it right. His creative genius in scrambling could only save his for so long. His success this weekend at the Valspar Championship was done with Woods hitting a lot of driving irons and hybrids off the tee.
It was a wise strategic decision on the tight Valspar layout—although he’s caught flak for passing up the driver on No. 18. Copperhead was a terrific course for him to display his unparalleled genius. How he will play on courses that require him to hit a lot of straight drivers will be the litmus test of just how far back he has come from his injuries and addiction.
He’ll need that distance because, while this weekend contained some top echelon players— Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy were in the field— he’ll need to keep up with bombers Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson when he heads back to Augusta.
Still, it’s a tantalizing prospect to envision the four-time Masters champ traipsing up No. 18 at Augusta National on a Sunday with a chance to win again. And if he does, huge swaths of American society will not care a whit that he’s a moral catastrophe. Despite the efforts of the scolds, grownups will separate the man from his misbehaviour. They want the dream.
It’s a fact that is lost on the anti-Trump hysterics who think that, if they can discover just one more moral failing in the president, the scales will fall from the eyes of the American public. But as Tiger shows, it doesn’t work that way once the public has baked in the essence of the man. They know what they’re getting and they can live with the contradictions.
Sort of like how liberals excuse the behaviours of Roman Polanski and Woody Allen so long as they keep making great movies.
Finally, a a note on young Mr. Conners who, for three rounds at least, took the best that the Tour and Copperhead could hand him-- and still led by a one-shot heading into Sunday. Yes, it came apart in a truly ugly way with a large Canadian contingent on hand to root him on. But that is the nature of the Tour for mere mortals who must be humbled before they know how to finish a win.
Matching Canadian Adam Hadwin (who won last year at Valspar) would have brought Conners a trip to Augusta and other perks. His precipitous fall down the leaderboard Sunday cost him money, FedEx points and confidence. It was reminiscent of Stephen Ames getting bludgeoned in match play by Woods before he finally won on Tour.
It also stung because, while he may get there again, we know that veterans Graham DeLaet and David Hearn have yet to convert their chances at wins and are still bagels in the win column.
So this week was not to be. But Conners has game, and if his mental approach is as strong as it appears to be, he will get another chance to join Hadwin, Mackenzie Hughes and Nick Taylor as recent Canadian winners on Tour.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy.is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. He’s also a regular contributor three-times-a-week to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. His website is Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com)