Get Used To It

We got the Lakers winning the NBA championship in six, De La Hoya swallowing another loss, or Tiger Woods. Which is to say, we could have Spam and cold macaroni for dinner, or duck prosciutto with fresh ricotta toast, baked figs, saffron risotto cake, North Carolina white shrimp, grilled Paine Farm squab, and porcini mushrooms.

Whaddaya think?

Next to watching cement blocks decompose there are few activities that scream, “YOU’VE GOT TOO MUCH TIME ON YOUR HANDS,” as loud as watching golf on television. Saying that, I logged as many hours watching the U.S. Open on television as I do during a month of NFL. In self defense, the attraction was not golf, it was the alien, Tiger Woods.

Where do you start with Woods? He averaged 300 yards off the tee. A lot of that was into a 30 mph wind. He... you’ve read the stats by now. I’ll put it this way: by the time the fourth and last round started, Woods could have bogeyed every hole on the back nine and still won the tournament by six shots. This, in the U.S. Open, the most prestigious golf tournament in the world. This, while playing against 155 of the best golfers on the planet.

On Friday, darkness stopped him on the 12th hole. On Saturday, he played 24 holes, getting up at 4:30 a.m., teeing off two hours later to finish his second round with a 69. Within seven hours he was back on the course, teeing up for another 18 holes. The gearing up and gearing down, the interrupted sleep, the pressure of doing what no one has ever done caused him to finish the third round with a disappointing par 71, placing him a paltry 10 strokes ahead of the field.

Think Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Babe Ruth, Mark McGwire, Joe Montana, or Wayne Gretsky. Forget, for the moment, that each of these remarkable athletes played on a team, and was dependent, in many ways, on teammates. Forget that. The question is, can you think of any athlete in any sport where the distance between number one and number two is as large as the one Tiger enjoys? Actually, there is no number two in golf. There is Tiger and there is a pack of faceless hacks.

Woods doesn’t beat his opponents, he destroys their manhood. Tiger takes the finest golfers in the world, pummels them until they’re purple, strips them naked, chains them to the bumper of his SUV, then drags them over the clubhouse parking lot while their wives and children look on. The man is evil.

We should enjoy this very brief period of universal agreement, because, within hours, we’ll be reading “Tiger is a jerk” stories. Already, sniveling sportswriters have pounced on the “Tournament was no fun” story. Woods has no competition. What fun is that? Is Tiger good for golf?

One: fuck golf. Two: is the absence of competition Tiger’s fault? Should we make him play with his legs shackled and one arm leashed to his golf bag? Would that make the game more competitive? Of course, the fact is, he was in glorious competition. The 2000 Open was more thrilling than any I’ve seen. The heart of it was, “How far ahead can Tiger get?” Can he win by 10 strokes, or can he win by 11, 12, 20 strokes? That was thrilling. Tiger playing against Tiger is the best golf tournament on the tour.

Woods has competed in 100 professional golf tournaments since he turned pro in 1996 and won 26 of them. He finished in the top ten 71 times. But a lot of those tournaments were played while he was a mere nipper. The lad was still learning. This year Woods has won five of eleven PGA Tour events. He finished in the top ten, ten times out of eleven possibilities. The kid is a 24-year-old walking curse who gives every professional golfer night sweats and he’s just begun. By the way, he’s already golf’s all-time money leader.

The PGA Tour as we’ve known it has ceased to exist. There are 15 to 20 events where Tiger plays and there are 25 to 30 events where he doesn’t. There is no PGA Tour.

The best thing about Woods, better than his drives or pitches or putts, is his relentless attack. He does not stop attacking, ever. He does not get five strokes up and coast. He does not pitch back to the fairway while in the rough, he goes for the pin. He attacks every shot, every time.

You can’t figure life, which is another way of saying you can’t predict the future. Woods could burn out and quit. He could go down in an airplane. He could contract a terminal disease. Nothing is guaranteed.

But it’s going to take something like that — some off-the-wall, million-to-one shot — to stop him from owning every record golf has. As it stands right now, he, at the age of 24, is the best golfer who has ever lived.

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