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Tiger can still roar

Last Sunday, a Tiger showed he can still roar.

No, it wasn’t a Detroit Tiger. They lost to Minnesota 6-4 and are starting to come back down to earth after a surprisingly good start to the season. Detroit is three games out of first place in the AL Central, which is nice, but let’s not get a purr confused with a roar.

That roar came on the golf course at Augusta National and it came from Eldrick “Tiger” Woods. It wasn’t just a small roar either. It was heard not only by the fans surrounding him at the 18th hole of The Masters Tournament, but the rest of the country as well. When Tiger sank his putt on the 18th, he clinched the top prize and let out a celebration that will be remembered for a long time. He threw his arms in the air and shouted as loud as he could and fans around the nation did the same with him.

I was a little late to his winning performance last Sunday, but seeing how I was late to being to the gate in watching his career, I suppose that was appropriate. I was keeping up on the Masters over the course of the previous three days and I saw that he was playing fairly well, but I wasn’t sure if he could pull it off. After all, he was trailing heading into the final day. So I stayed away from my TV and if he managed to be in the mix near the end, I’d tune in to see the last couple of holes. I almost waited too long. My Twitter feed started blowing up with people saying that Tiger was about to win and I came downstairs and flipped on the TV just in time to watch the ball go in the hole and see his winning reaction. Watching him pump his fist and throw up his hands in joy was something incredible to see and it’s one of those rare occasions in sports that will stick out in your mind for years to come.

Why will it stand out? It’s a combination of three things. First, Tiger is one of the most recognizable athletes on the planet and he’s one of the few people where you don’t have to include a last name to get people to know who you’re talking about. LeBron, Kobe, Magic and Serena are the only ones off the top of my head that can be in the same group with Tiger that aren’t soccer players. However, unlike the first three I listed, Tiger is the most famous player in his sport. Just like Serena is with tennis, Tiger is with golf. When you ask a random person to name a golfer, nine times out of 10, they’ll say Tiger. The guy is bigger than his sport and without him, it’s not the same. Sure, there’s many, many golf fans around the world, but things are different when Tiger’s involved. The media and fans are glued in whenever he does anything on the course, no matter if he plays well or not. I like watching Dustin Johnson play, but despite being the No. 1 golfer right now, he doesn’t have the same appeal.

Secondly, for my generation, he made golf seem cool. Nobody I knew growing up was attempting to be the next Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus. Once Tiger won the Masters in 1997, more kids wanted to play golf and wanted to be like him. He changed the image of the game as well.

For decades, golf was seen as a sport played by middle-aged white men. Now a young, exciting, mixed-race golfer was taking the game by storm and it hasn’t been the same since the late 90s. Not many people can say they changed a sport by themselves, but Tiger can. That might actually be his greatest accomplishment, even over all those major championships.

I think the biggest reason is that he completed a long comeback journey. The guy has had some issues the past few years to say the least. In the late 90s and early to mid-2000s, Tiger was on top of the golfing world. He was dominating the competition and you wondered if he was ever going to slow down. By 2008, he had won 14 majors and it looked like he could tie Nicklaus’ record 18 majors before he turned 40. Then the wheels started to loosen on the Tiger truck, before falling off as the truck rolled over a few times before finally ending up in the ditch. Some of that was literal as he wrecked his SUV in front of his own house one time and soon after that, his multiple marital infidelities came to light. His public image was tarnished, which was his own fault.

Then circumstances out of Tiger’s control added to his already rocky career. Tiger’s physical issues started to really take its toll. He won the U.S. Open in 2008, pretty much on one leg and then went through season-ending knee surgery. Knee pain continued to bother him and he also went through four back surgeries, including a spinal fusion a couple of years ago.

Perhaps his lowest moment came in 2017 when he was arrested for DUI and by that point, many doubted he could come back from all of that, including himself as he acknowledged in an interview later that year that he might not play competitive golf again.

Yet we held out hope. Whenever he played remotely well, we wondered if he was starting to get back to his old self. He may not be the world-beating megastar that he once was, but just seeing him being competitive again would be great to see. We came close to watching that last year at the British Open as Tiger held the lead on the final day for a period of time before eventually losing it. He may not have been entirely the same and he still had a way to go on his journey, but he showed the golfing world that he could still do his thing.

On Sunday, his journey was complete. As some pointed out, he was serious the entire day, apparently never smiling, and intent on finishing the job. While other players started to falter, Tiger stayed strong. When he sank his final putt at Augusta, his famous fist pump was a small one, almost as if he didn’t believe he won. Then it quickly sank in and the celebration began.

The crowd chanting “Tiger, Tiger!” was something to behold. There are very few athletes that could get that type of reaction and based on what I saw on social media, it’s like the world was celebrating with him.

That day he was wearing red, which is what he always does on Sundays, but he looked different and the mood was different. Instead of watching a guy at the top of his game, we watched a guy regaining his game. This wasn’t really a story of redemption that some were making out to be. It was just a guy showing that he still had some fuel left in the tank. When he needed to come through in the clutch, he did. And it was awesome to watch.

Will Tiger win another major? Last year, I said it’s hard to say and it still is. However, for one day, Tiger has the eyes of the sports world on him and he finished the job. We might not see him perform like that again, but from now on, we know that it’s possible.

Last weekend, Tiger roared for the first time in more than a decade, and for at least one more afternoon, we got the chance to roar along with him.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.