Tiger, the Masters and a Wierd Detour for Destiny

As the Masters draws near and with it the eerie reappearance of Tiger Woods, it’s odd to look back at what people so recently felt and wrote about this athlete and his unfolding history. For my part, I’m intrigued by something I typed approximately six years ago under the title, “We’re Just Living in It.” The understood clause that would preface that title was, of course, “It’s Tiger’s World…” The voice in the essay  is that of a standard-issue sportswriter attempting to write a book on Woods’ career, and trying to fill in the blanks on events that would unfold in the decade or so to come. So, the paragraph in italics is a sample passage from the preface of the imagined book—after that the sportswriter’s thoughts take over. We find him completely confident of all the Masters victories and other major titles Tiger would capture. The only thing he’s not quire sure of is how effectively he will cash in on these exploits at the bookstore counters.

He came on the scene in the early 1990s, winning every junior title and amateur competition golf threw in his path. In 1996 he turned pro and embarked on the most colossal athletic career of any sportsman in history. Giants preceded him—Vardon, Hagen, Jones, Hogan, Nicklaus—one by one he buried them in obscurity. The scale of his record-shattering achievements is so staggering that no one who witnessed it has any chance of living long enough to see any golfer even begin to challenge his immortal legacy.

Haven’t put the final polish on that, but it’s getting close. I know I shouldn’t take column space to work on a book manuscript but I’m a little bit under the gun here. Skip, my agent, wants the introduction and a sample chapter for “Tiger Woods: Looking Back at a Legend” on his desk no later than October of 2011. The way he and I have it figured Tiger will be sitting at 15 majors, two children and three knee surgeries by then.

Skip tells me if we’re going to have any chance at what he calls the Big Contract for the Big Book, we’ve got to be two or three years ahead of the crowd. The week after the Masters was when Skip really started hounding me about deadlines. I was just back from Augusta National and not keen on getting his calls. It’s Skip’s job to hound me but after a while I called him a paranoid freak and asked him to please shut his yap. I pointed out that the writers we’re supposedly trying to keep ahead of are on this still kick about The Big Three.

They’re worried about tomorrow’s headlines, so they’re hoisting up Vijay and Mickelson—or maybe this week it’s Vijay and Ernie Els—onto Tiger’s private pedestal. Well, they can chase that fantasy all summer long, I said. And when they come back down to reality I’ll have polished off chapter 3 (“Dusting off Duval” —that’s what we’re calling it until I can come up with a better title) and be digging into chapter 4 (“Triumph and Tumult with a Funny Fellow Named Fluff”). Journalism is the first draft of history, some genius once said, but the next day it’s fish-wrap or if you will bird-cage lining.

Meanwhile, there’s something Skip calls a tipping point out there, somewhere in the future and whoever spots it (the 19th major, most likely) and has a decent Tiger Retrospective ready—with jacket blurbs and a release for 10 or 12 AP photos—will be looking at a check with some zeros on it. First to market, that’s Skip’s big buzzword for it. I’m not planning to admit it in my Author’s Foreword, but I’m the guy for the job because I am Tiger’s biggest believer and therefore the one who is probably most burned out on the whole Tiger Era. I mean, the inevitability of it. The no-doubt factor.

Yes there are thrills and chills to covering golf in this particular quarter-century, but there are times you feel like Bill Murray with the digits hitting 6:43 every morning and “I Got You Babe” blasting out of the clock radio. When I got into this business I did not expect to go from an eager young reporter to a cranky old white-haired desk man while one guy in a red shirt won every tournament he really felt like winning, and then—if he ever does leave the scene—leaving us in a historical vacuum, chronicling irrelevant events.

The guy’s shotmaking is out of this world. His competitive courage—I got pages and pages already on the competitive courage. And the classy behavior (you know, except for a few strings of profanity here and there) and the incredible professionalism. It’s unparalleled. It’s just that, like I was telling Skip the other day, I’ve gone through two couches watching this guy dominate the game. Every TV we buy, his picture keeps getting bigger and sharper and brighter. The red of those red shirts just keeps getting redder. And unless you get into made-up controversies like Annika’s Got the Wrong Loft on Her Driver, or Kenny Perry—When He is Going to Admit He’s a Zillionaire and Buy a Private Jet, you’re stuck writing the same story every time you sit down. Fine and good, I’m writing it. But now I’m writing it in the past tense. And I’ve have to tell you, it’s a blessed relief.

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