We’ve all been trying to take this pandemic and its nuclear effect on our society, country and sports world day-by-day, and for the most part, we’ve been grinding away with impressive efficiency, eyes on the long-range prize.
Missing Opening Day at Oracle Park was brutal, but as I Jock Blogged last week, memories of Opening Days past and a bit of whimsy and optimism got us through.
This weekend, though, is too much of a 1-2 punch.
No baseball is one thing. Missing the Masters right on top of it? That’s a double haymaker.
I think I might hit the canvas for a few, sports fans.
Incredibly, it might be missing Tiger Woods in April that hurts most of all.
Sounds strange to some of you, I’m sure. A lot of you don’t like Tiger. I understand. I’ve never been a huge Tiger FanBoy, for whatever reason. Tiger’s monster fall from grace in Thanksgiving 2009 made many of you wave him off forever. Still others of you are turned off by his corporate blandness. And some sports fans just like to hate. I get it. I do it, too. Oh, hey there, Dodger and USC fan! Hello!
But the replays of the Masters on TV this week and having our good pal Jim Nantz on this week and our show doing the 2005 Masters as a #VintageGameRewatch this week and the looming prospect of the 2019 Masters being replayed this weekend brought back this essential truth I have returned to time and time again on the show:
Tiger Woods is the greatest winner I have ever seen.
I’ve seen Michael. I’ve seen LeBron. I’ve seen Kobe. I’ve seen Brady. I’ve seen Roger. I’ve seen Bjorn. I’ve seen Serena. I’ve seen Annika. I’ve seen Jeter. I’ve seen Madison.
And yes, I’ve seen Joe.
With all due respect, it is my firm belief that Tiger Woods’ primal will to win exceeds any of those legends.
I know, I know. It’s not a one-to-one comp. Team sports vs. individual sports. Different eras, blah blah. And, yes, Jack has more majors, so how could Tiger be the greatest winner?
Well, for starters, I have a disclaimer that I did not see Jack Nicklaus in his prime, and the numbers are daunting. I grant you that. And I know my good pal Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle has gently scolded me to remind me that there is only one acceptable answer to this debate, and it is the guy with 11 NBA titles, two NCAA basketball championships and an Olympic gold medal to boot. Yes, Jenks, Bill Russell is a heck of an argument, and I’m not here to dispute.
Just saying that with my eyes, Tiger’s 2019 win reminded me that the sheer force of his heartbeat and skill is something no one has ever transcended. Only Michael comes close. But last year, washed up, done, and as ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt reminded us on the show today, “with a bald spot and a fused back”, Tiger came roaring back to win his first Masters in 14 years, his first major in 11 years, against young, strong, healthy kids who grew up idolizing him.
Tiger’s 2019 Masters was astounding in that respect. Francesco Molinari, Dustin Johnson, Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Brooks Koepka, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler — all of these “Tiger Generation” kids had a big, fat shot to take the green jacket that Sunday a year ago. But as Van Pelt discussed with us today, Tiger’s mere presence “jammed up their radar”; his aura and his brain-stem instinct to outlast them all was winning in its most distilled essence.
It would be the equivalent of Michael winning an NBA title with the Washington Wizards. Joe hoisting a Super Bowl trophy with the Kansas City Chiefs. Tom bringing a Bowl to Tampa . . . wait. That’s still on the table. D’oh!
All I’m saying is, this weekend is going to be tough. Like Opening Day, the Masters symbolizes so much — Easter eggs, guaranteed theatre, longer days, summer approaching, history made. Tiger gave us unreal theatre last year, and showed us what human beings can do with desire in competition.
He’s the best to ever do it. I’ll miss seeing him this weekend. Dammit.