All Is Forgiven, Tiger. You Can Come Back Home
For a moment he was lost in the throng. Then, like Gandhi emerging from the mass, he pulled free of the adoring throng. The noise, the exuberance of the crowd, their cameras soaking up the moment. All to proclaim
Tiger Woods, the People’s Champion.
Forgotten was the disgrace of 2009, when his marriage and his life collapsed in the bright spotlight of infidelity. Forgotten the spinal-fusion surgeries that rendered him a hobbled man. Gone the arrest by the side of the road in Florida on charges he was using drugs. The break-up with Lindsay Vonn.
Evaporated, as well, the nastiness of political hacks who accused him of sheltering president Donald Trump.
On this day in Atlanta at the Tour Championship the 42-year-old Woods was in the bosom of an adoring public who couldn’t get enough of him. The man they all respected, they all resented, they all feared, was now a balding, benign figure wiping tears from his eyes as walked up the 18th hole at the East Lake Course
Try to find an honest person who says they put money on Woods ever winning is 80th PGA title last winter when he seemed like an injured has-been. The Vegas odds were very long. Those who backed him laughed that they were throwing away their money.
Then came the stories suggesting he had moved past chipping in his backyard to hitting full shots. There were rumours he was coming back to play at his own Hero World Challenge tournament over the winter. People still begged him not to tarnish his image with a pathetic comeback.
But then, he wasn’t pathetic. Yes, his driver was wilder that he’d been off the course 15 years ago. But there were signs he still had the great hands and the brilliant instincts for the game. How would he fare at Augusta?
He was more than okay. Before the Masters he finished in a tie for second at the Valspar Championship and then chalked up a T5 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He tired at the Masters, but the prospect of him winning his 80th or even a major championship was no longer so absurd.
Time after time over the summer Woods hung with the bombers of the Tour, getting close but never finishing the deal. He managed a T6 at the U.S. Open and then a second at the PGA Championship, again behind champion Brooks Koepka who lives just few miles from Woods in Jupiter, Florida.
As he built on his resumé, the young guys of the Tour came to see Woods in a very different light from what he’d been in his youth. In his prime, Woods not only crushed opponents. He took glee in stomping them. Canadians will always remember his evisceration of a cocky Stephen Ames in 2006 match play. “Nine and eight,” he sneered after thumping Ames by that score.
But now Woods was the avuncular figure on Tour, the legend comfortable in his own skin finally. He delighted in the respect he got from players who’d grown up hearing of his fearsome reputation. They lined up to play practice rounds with him or hang with him in his restaurant in Jupiter.
Who remembered the mug shot anymore?
All he needed to complete the picture was a win. The PGA near-miss stung as it meant he’d have wait till 2019 to capture his 15th Major. But he doubled down on a quest to be named as a player to the Ryder Cup team after this week in France (he was already a coach).
A sixth in the Dell Technologies tournament achieved that goal and set him up for Sunday in Atlanta. To make sure there was no confusion, he led the Tour Championship event— featuring all the best players from the 2018 season— from wire to wire.
When he walked down the 18th fairway, the energy that has been building around him burst like a dam. The fans spilled out onto the course, following Woods as he took his victory stroll. The cheers lapped over him as they walked along, the same way it used to happen for Ben Hogan and Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.
Sure he missed the putt on 18 that would have cemented a video moment for the ages. Stuff happens. But the two-stroke win left no doubt of the legitimacy of his triumph. Everyone will now say they were there to see it.
He went to Atlanta a legend. He heads to France a hero. And who saw that transition coming?
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of his website Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). He’s also a regular contributor 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 a best-selling author whose new book Cap In Hand: How Salary Caps AreKilling Pro Sports And How The Free Market Could Save Them is now available.