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Home Year of the Tiger...

Its been said more than once about every sport that no one person is bigger than the game itself. The NBA had MJ and it has survived in part with the passing of the torch to Kobe. The NHL lost the Great One and Sid the Kid came along. In golf there have been a long list of icons throughout the years. Not that long ago, Arnold gave way to Jack who in turn pass the baton to the Shark, for example. But what none of these great players endured was a world of transparency that existed 24/7. Tiger Woods will go down as the greatest player by virtue of his record until someone else comes along who can one up him. But back in the day tournaments weren’t on television for all four rounds. The Internet didn’t exist to supply a daily dosage of gossip. YouTube might sound like an ice cream flavor, but it was around to digitally record moments (good or bad) forever.

What all of the great players in every sport have in common is they are marketing platforms for the game they represent. Magic Johnson helped to sell basketball just as Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa did in baseball when they chased the home run record. Barry Bonds was a focal point, be it controversially in becoming the all time home run holder. Golf is played during the daytime, sometimes in weather no ones wants to be seen in. It doesn’t enjoy the primetime slot that other sports do such as baseball, basketball, football or hockey. It essentially relies on approximately six hours of television coverage during a weekend when many of its fan base are either playing themselves or have other responsibilities such as a family to attend to. Nevertheless, now more than ever it needs one person to push itself back into the main stream consciousness levels but this time in a positive light. Which in turn could suggest that one person is more important than the game be it temporarily.

Tiger Woods is the person who will have all the eyes squarely focused upon him when he returns to play next year. He didn’t win in 2010 yet by many accounts, he was still the story of the year in the golf world. The Associated Press voted him the story of the year, period, in all of sports. Americans, if not the world, loves second chances, a mulligan, if you will. Kobe Bryant certainly made the most of his by virtue of letting his basketball skills do all of his talking. Having teammates didn’t hurt either. Woods doesn’t have that luxury unless you consider his entourage (caddy, agent and instructor) as part of Team ETW (Eldrick Tiger Woods). Many will be cheering for him in 2011. Some more openly than others. But aside from the obvious records he is chasing after, there is more on the line.

Woods is golf’s greatest asset. Perhaps tarnished for the moment, but nevertheless no other player can close to him as witnessed in 2010, his worst performing year. He makes people stop what they are doing and watch when they ordinarily don’t pay attention in the first place. No other player in professional golf has that same ability. The beneficiary of this intangible is the game itself. His remarkable feats are thrust onto the front pages of the sport sections around the country if not world, after it has gone viral through the world wide web. It becomes the equivalent of a grassroots campaign to golfers throughout the globe, no longer just a country. If you lived on the other side of the international date line, you can still see the images through a computer screen long after it happened lived. You can read about it until nausea sets in or until you decide to change the sports channel devoted to reliving the highlights over and over again. Palmer, Player, Watson, Trevino, Norman, Faldo among others never had to contend with this back in the day.

But with the advent (in some minds need) of constant “stuff” filling the airwaves (Exhibit A began last November when Woods drove into a fire hydrant), it has created a byproduct that is here to stay. The “storytakes on a life of its own as anyone and everyone can attempt to get in on the party. Bloggers can offer their two cents without necessarily adding any new information. Social media sites pump up the volume whether its about Brett Favre or whatever the story du jour happens to be. In turn the lifespan is unpredictable to determine. Winning and losing becomes lost in the shuffle. Moving forward can be a difficult proposition as the world comes crashing down and taking back control can be very challenging. Woods attempted to right the ship with some make shift interviews and apologies. But it didn’t last for very long before his sincerity was questioned and the tables were once again turned.

However, in the infamous words of Al Davis, “Just win baby,” and more often than not all will be forgiven. Maybe not immediately but eventually. If Tiger is victorious again in 2011, the story becomes focused on his game versus any other perverted angle. Kobe accomplished it and Tiger can too. If Woods continues to struggle, by his past standards, it allows the blogosphere to continue its inane rantings without any consequences to its drivel. But golf is passenger along the way, fair or unfair just as Woods doesn’t deserve to have this hanging over his head. He helped to make the game cool with those who didn’t think of it that way. He represented an athletic frame and a million dollar smile that became associated with the game versus the previous overweight argyle pattern, sans a belt slacks crowd. Guilt by association can be a good or bad thing. Golf has experienced both sides of the coin with its fallen star and its hoping (for the next broadcast rights contract) the next time the story comes up heads versus tails.