Why sports fans can’t help rooting for Tiger Woods
Most sports fans I know couldn’t give a stuff if Tiger Woods had sex with half the cocktail waitresses in America. We’ll still be cheering for him when he tees off as favourite in the Masters in Augusta, Georgia this week.
As Wimbledon is to tennis, so is the Masters to golf. It’s the one event every player wants to win, and the event which every fan wants their favourite player to win. And sex scandal or no sex scandal, Tiger Woods is still most people’s favourite player.
Tiger has won the Masters four times, the last time in 2005. He doesn’t need any more ceremonial winner’s green jackets. Nor does he, as sport’s first billionaire, need the $1.5 winner’s prizemoney, even if he’s worth a little less these days after his acrimonious split with ex-wife Elin Nordegren.
Tiger doesn’t need the accolades, he doesn’t need the world ranking points, he doesn’t need the exposure and he doesn’t need the Masters trophy, even if it’d nudge his tally of 14 Major titles a little closer to Jack Nicklaus’s landmark 18.
Tiger doesn’t need our support either, especially with his huge American fanbase. Really, he is the least deserving person of our adulation in the entire Masters field. Yet when most Australians look up the leaderboard each morning later this week, Woods will be the first name we search for.
Australians with an interest in sport are driven by two irresistible impulses. The first is to cheer the Australians. The second is to urge on the underdog, especially in contests in which we have no strong allegiance.
The exception to this two-pronged rule applies to true champions. In short, we just love seeing the biggest names in any sport crush the opposition and underline just what makes them so great. And within reason, we love these champions no matter how they conduct themselves away from the sporting arena.
Some champions, like Bart Cummings and Roger Federer, are easy to cheer for. We average Joe Schmoes sit back and marvel at their greatness without feeling the slightest bit morally compromised.
Other champions require a little more give and take. Exhibit A: Shane Warne. Australians have forgiven all kinds of pork choppery from Warne over the years because he’s so damn fine at spinning a cricket ball with his fingers. We are not blind to the man’s foibles, but we see past them in our desire to see something a little transcendent, something way beyond the ordinary.
Do not music and movie fans do something similar? Did not a certain American president remain highly regarded despite a penchant for interns in blue dresses?
There are of course limits. You hit a woman, you deserve firstly scorn and secondly to be ignored forever after, even if some boneheaded sports administrator allows you back into the game. But Tiger Woods has done nothing but a little philandering. OK, a lot of philandering. All the same, he has committed nothing which the law regards as a crime.
And no matter how sordid the tale of his ongoing infidelity, Tiger Woods is still one almighty hell of a golfer. Golf before Tiger now seems like the sepia footage of cricket in the Bradman era. Tiger came and turned it into Twenty20 in a blink. He took a demure game and gave it V8 grunt.
Since his fall in late 2009, a succession of Americans and Brits have held the Number One spot, some of them moderately talented, others extremely gifted, but all totally anonymous to anyone who doesn’t know that an albatross is an alternate term for a double eagle.
Now Tiger is back and with it, a buzz. Last week, Woods won his first PGA Tour event in 924 days. You have to like his chances this week. Even in his down period, he competed well at Augusta. In the last three years, he finished no lower than 6th. A win this week is a genuine prospect.
A victory wouldn’t make Tiger Woods squeaky clean. But by god, it would be a beautiful thing. There is something elevating about sporting greatness, just as there is something elevating about sublime artistic talent and any other kind of talent you can name.
We ardent fans don’t really care what kind of package that talent comes in, and if you think that makes us tacky, consider that Tiger’s golfing peers feel likewise.
At the 2009 Australian Masters (a massively less important event than the US Masters), Tiger Woods beat Australian Greg Chalmers by two strokes. Afterwards, Chalmers was asked if he felt unlucky being beaten by a bloke making his first Australian appearance in more than decade.
His answer? Words to the effect that finishing second to Tiger was more meaningful than winning in a Tigerless field.
Last week, three porn stars called “Devon”, “Holly” and “Joslyn” announced they were making a film about their erotic escapades with Tiger. If Woods wins the Masters this week, you can bet the highlights DVD will outsell that other film by a ratio of ten to one.
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