As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
The NBA and NHL playoffs are approaching. MLB, after flirtations with disaster, kicked off the 2021 season (whew!). The NFL draft is looming. March Madness just wrapped up and Mike Krzyzewski completed an unbelievable and thoroughly irritating (Maryland fan, here) 42-year run as Duke’s head coach.
It is a packed sports calendar, indeed. Nevertheless, there’s only one story to write.
Poor Scottie Scheffler. This should be all about him. Dude is the world’s top-ranked player and just won the freaking Masters. He’ll get his run, but he will never be the 2022 Masters’ lasting storyline; that was decided before a single player had teed off.
The first whisper came a week before the Masters’ start – Tiger Woods hadn’t yet withdrawn. It seemed inconsequential; Woods had done similar things in years past before pulling out with various ailments. But then he flew to Augusta. And played a bit. And then Fred Couples commented on how good he looked. And then Woods held a press conference in front of fawning Masters luminaries and a reverent media and announced his intentions to play. And his belief that he could win. And just like that, Tiger Woods, who nearly lost his lower right leg due to injuries suffered in a horrific car accident last February, made the impossible, possible…again.
There is much about Woods that is off-putting. The obvious: his well-documented evisceration of his marriage. Woods’s serial adultery, the night his wife allegedly took a golf club to his SUV and his subsequent accident, and the cringe-worthy press conference he gave weeks later were as surreal as his triumphs on the golf course. Woods is also a prickly fellow and perfectly comfortable holding grudges against former caddies, fellow players and members of the media (just ask John Feinstein) for perceived, and often petty, slights.
And then there’s his astounding arrogance – a more complicated trait. Woods carries himself with an air that golf needs him more than he needs it. It reminds of Aaron Rodgers’s steadfast belief – proven correct - that he could coerce the Green Bay Packers to kowtow to his quarterbacking greatness. Woods certainly is correct in his judgment of his power over golf – the game with him and without him are two very different things. Off-putting? Yes. An impetus for his success? Indeed. And a big reason behind the drive that made this amazing Masters moment possible? Without a doubt.
For good or ill, greatness is often measured by hardware – rings, MVP awards, Player of the Year honors or other accolades. Second place is first loser. A season that ends without a confetti shower is a failure. Such is the common competition speak to capture when one’s best wasn’t good enough. It is easy to interpret such a mentality and apply to it life – get that job, drive that fancy car, captain that sleek boat, build that 5,000 square foot mansion…or else you have fallen short, failed to achieve. Never mind your happiness, the goal is to impress.
Sports and life are more complicated that than. There is context to every story – athletic or personal. Sports decide contests with a scoreboard, but victors aren’t always winners and the defeated don’t always lose. Woods didn’t win at Augusta National this weekend, but his effort was an indisputable success. In fact, if I’m voting, this performance ranks right up there with his 1997 and 2019 green jackets as his most impressive Masters showings. The man almost lost his leg. He is lucky to be alive. There was no indication, even a couple of weeks ago, that he could will his bionic body – the reconstructed left knee, the five-time surgically repaired back and metal lower right leg - to even play four rounds over four consecutive days, much less do it on golf’s greatest stage. But he did, and at age 46. Woods pushed through physical pain, overcame the psychological challenge and did the once unthinkable. At Augusta last weekend, Woods created unlikely moment, and an inspirational story of perseverance - for anyone dealt a bad hand or battling against conventional wisdom, stereotypes or even unprecedented circumstances - simply by being present and competing.