Just a mere six months ago, if I wrote this story, many of you would have said what a lovely fairy tale. Well, this same story is now a Tiger tale. I have had the privilege of covering Tiger for over 20 years.
I was here when he won his first Masters. I was there when Tiger won a U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by 15 shots. I was standing next to the 18th green in St. Andrews when he won a Claret Jug. All monumental victories to be sure, but to be honest, none of the 14 majors he has won were anywhere near as jaw-dropping as Tiger’s win on Sunday at the Tour Championship.
I still can visualize the huge hug that Tiger gave his dad after finishing out on the 72nd hole stunning the golf world and earning his first Green Jacket. I will never forget what happened with Tiger immediately after he signed his card for a record-setting 15-stroke victory at the U.S. Open. At the time, I was doing interviews for the USGA and was positioned inside a van to wait for Tiger. As Tiger stepped into the van, he was actively involved in a conversation on his cell phone. Tiger ended his call by saying “Thank you, Mr. President.” Then, without skipping a beat, he said, “Alright, Bobby. What do you need?”
At St. Andrews, as I was broadcasting live on talkSport, the world’s largest sports radio station out of London, I found myself standing alongside Tiger’s mom, Tilda. Never before had she allowed herself to be interviewed. I took a chance, and to this day, it remains the only interview she has ever granted. So, you get the idea there have been many big-time moments with Tiger that I’ve somehow been part of, but nothing can stack up to Tour win number 80 on Sunday. This victory puts Tiger just two wins shy of the all-time win record of Sam Sneed at 82.
On our flight to Paris for this week’s Ryder Cup, I struck up a conversation with Andrew Magee, who played on Tour for 20 years. His big claim to fame is the fact he recorded a hole-in-one on a par four hole, the only player ever to do so on Tour.
I asked Andrew his thoughts on Tiger’s win. Andrew said not only did he believe it would never happen, many of his Tour pro friends echoed those sentiments.
Tiger, in his prime, was so good that he was ranked number one in the world for 4781 days racking up 79 Tour wins which include his 14 majors.
It seemed like no one was capable of knocking Tiger off his lofty perch. However, once the tide turned for Tiger, it seemed like it would ever end. His medical history now looks like something you would read in a medical case journal. Neck injuries combined with shoulder problems, combined with knee operations, quickly began to erode his massive skills. Once the back problems manifested, many thought the end was near.
His mind remained strong until the problem with the nine iron came into play. No, Tiger did not have a problem with hitting his nine iron but after being hit with one by his wife at the time, Elin, Tiger’s world came crashing down.
On November 27, 2009, his wife discovered Tiger not only had plenty of partners to play with during the day but an overabundance at night. Besides the shame and embarrassment, Tiger was forced to shell out around $97 million. That is what I call a very steep penalty for playing out of bounds.
So, here we are with a plethora of medical and mental issues plaguing Tiger. A win on Tour seemed as likely for him as it would be for me. You and I knew that was not going to happen and many in the game felt it was the same case for Tiger.
So, this past Sunday, when Tiger began the final 18 with the lead, a birdie on his first hole let everyone know that this day was going to be special, and boy, was it! Let me put the number 80 in perspective. If four pros win 20 times each, that would be good enough to get all four into the Hall of Fame. With Tiger seemingly back in the mix, the excitement level for next year’s Masters will most definitely reach an all-time high.
By the way, next time someone says to you winning is everything, you can just point out that it wasn’t so for Justin Rose. Two weeks ago, Justin lost in a playoff to Keegan Bradley but earned enough world ranking points to become number one in the world. This past week, once again, Rose did not win, but earned enough points to be crowned FedEx Cup Champion. Oh, by the way, that honor earned Justin Rose a cool $10 million in bonus money.
As far as those young guns on Tour, saying it would be fun having Tiger back and playing well, all I can
say is be careful what you wish for. I know what I am wishing for, and that is an exciting week here at the Ryder Cup . . . something along the lines of what Tiger delivered last week will do just fine.