Maybe the chief thrill for sports fans is witnessing greatness. It might not be why we watch, but it is probably the most compelling product of competition. Our collective desire to see greatness and appreciate it in real-time is why Tiger Woods’ tour victory at Memorial is so promising.
That’s two tour victories, this year. Heading into the US Open, Tiger says he’s playing his best golf in years. This should please everyone. Five years ago, Woods was on a path to immortality. It seemed like he was destined to be in the conversation of the greatest athletes period. Then he crashed his whip, got clubbed by his wife, lost his swing, lost his swag. As a sports fan, it wasn’t as fun to follow sports with an all-timer suddenly impotent.
When Woods, four stokes back coming into the final round, can shoot a 67 (seven birdies, three in the final four holes) and bully his way to a victory, we’re witnessing greatness reappear. The Tiger Fist Pump has always been one of the lamest, squarest celebrations known to man, but when the man broke it out for his birdie on 16th it looked cold as ice. Jack Nicklaus, the tournament host, dug Tiger’s chip-in birdie. "I don't think under the circumstances I've ever seen a better shot,'' he said.
Woods tied Nicklaus’ 73 tour victories at Nicklaus’ tournament, which is poetry. Sam Snead’s record 82 wins is a done deal. It’s all about majors, though, and with a major less than two weeks away, you should be rooting for Tiger at the US Open, because by rooting for Tiger, you’re rooting for greatness.
That’s just best practice for a sports fan. Unless you have some regional or lifelong tie to a squad or athlete, side with greatness or the pursuit. It’s not nitpicking if you get frustrated when, say, LeBron James in “a moment” slings an errant pass to his power forward at the end of regulation. Rooting for greatness means actively rooting for LeBron to meet the moment and being disappointed when he shrinks.
Why waste time hating Floyd Mayweather Jr. Money May is great – appreciate that man. When Eli Manning beat the great Tom Brady (again) for his second Super Bowl, we witnessed an individual become great. That was thrilling. Kevin Durant is trying to become great. Great players and a great coach stand in his way. I’m rooting for the kid.
So, next Thursday, Tiger will take his first swing at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. I will be watching and rooting. We all should. Sports is more fun if Tiger can get back to great.