By Nate Tenopir, Senior Staff Writer
When Tiger Woods won the Masters in 1997 at the age of 21, we all stood in awe. The youngest champion ever, Woods had simply dominated the field, shooting an 18-under-par and beating his nearest competitor by 12 strokes.
Tiger’s focus on the golf course was unlike anything most of us had ever seen, outside of Michael Jordan. He just didn’t make mistakes, he didn’t beat himself and he eliminated much of the competition simply by intimidation.
His mastery of being the best and beating the best was on display week after week. You just couldn’t find it in any other superstar, or in any other sport.
Twelve years later, we all stood in awe again.
After a Thanksgiving dust up with the Mrs., every successive day seemed to produce yet another mistress to add to the list of Tiger’s harem.
There’s no doubt that most young men my age, and likely most men of any age, dream of having that sort of female attention. But something about the whole fiasco seemed to rub us all the wrong way.
Perhaps it was the fact that when Tiger finally spoke publicly, he never admitted to what he did; only saying that he had made “mistakes.” For most of us, that seemed to come off as a non-apology.
Perhaps it was how he seemed to answer the questions in the same smug, monotone way he answers any questions. “The golf course looks good, I feel good, I like my chances.” Could there be a more fascinating person who answers questions in the more uninteresting manner?
Or perhaps it was the matter of infidelity. Not only was Tiger already married to one of the most beautiful women in the world, but he had started a family and not only cheated on his wife, but his kids as well.
Anymore, it’s difficult to justify any allegiance to Tiger because it just makes you feel dirty. He has become one of those people who, after coming into contact with, make you feel like you should take a shower.
Suffice to say, as the Masters approached this weekend, which I had been reminded of by Jim Nantz nearly 100 times since January, I found myself in a difficult position.
The reasons against rooting for Tiger were numerous. But I couldn’t help but turn on the Masters in the hopes of seeing Tiger being Tiger again. What it comes down to, for me it seems, is the selfish hope of seeing real sports history in my generation.
Our parents got to see Jack Nicklaus do the unthinkable at age 46 and win his sixth green jacket in 1986. It was Jack’s last major win and established the record for the most major wins at 18.
Their parents got to see Jack, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player battle it out in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Now, golf isn’t my favorite sport, but being a sports guy I’m a sucker for history making moments.
Tiger was my guy, my history-maker, my chance to say “I was there when…” He showed flashes of it again on Friday before making a tumble and getting seven shots back on Saturday.
I didn’t want to cheer for Phil Mickelson because as great of a story as he is, he has become too big to root for. I liked old Lefty when he was a little fat, made stupid mistakes, and was always right there on the edge of breaking through.
We could all identify with that guy and the way he played golf. Now he has seemingly eliminated those mental errors, slimmed down and won three of the last seven Masters.
So there I was on Sunday afternoon 45 minutes prior to the last round of the Masters. As a patriotic guy I wanted to cheer for an American, but we’ve lost a step to the Europeans in the last five years.
I could’ve jumped on that bandwagon, but Rory McIlroy is too young for me to favor. When you’re 15 and a 21-year-old wins the Masters, that’s pretty neat.
When you’ve become older than the guy who’s leading the field and poised to win his first, it starts to put things into a different perspective. What was I doing at 21? Certainly not winning the Masters.
No, I decided to go with Angel Cabrera, the chubby guy from Argentina. I think I fell in love with Cabrera a few years ago when he completed his first major championship at the 2007 Masters.
In his first real chance to win a big golf tournament, Cabrera was like any of us would have been, nervous. So much that, in between holes waiting around the tee box, the camera caught glimpses of Cabrera smoking a cigarette.
As much as Phil is the anti-Tiger, Cabrera appeals to me as the anti-golfer. Granted he’s amassed much more money than I ever will by simply playing golf, he’s a guy I’d want out on the course with me.
So many of the pros can be too professional. Golf is supposed to be fun, at least that’s the wa. My friends and I play it.
Cabrera would fit that mold better than anyone else I can think of. He probably wouldn’t be opposed to making the stakes a little interesting as well as taking part in a beer or two on the course and in the clubhouse afterwards.
Cabrera ended up finishing seventh, and Tiger used a strong front nine to finish tied for fourth, but I felt good about my decision.
You can have your McIlroys, Westwoods, Poulters and Mickelsons and even your Tigers. I’ll take the chubby guy from Argentina.