Enough time now has passed to enable us to clearly understand the enormity of Tiger Woods's sweeping triumph earlier this week at golf's British Open.
What we understand is that it was boring. What we further understand is Woods is making the entire PGA tour repeatedly boring. What the magnificence of Woods's play is doing is demonstrating that too much success, too much excellence, and too much brilliance can paint a picture not of vibrant reds and blues and greens but one of drab browns and grays and blacks.
It is the oddest of dichotomies.
After all, we admire enormous talent. Tiger gives us that. But we also admire - and want - exciting competition in which the outcome is in doubt until the last possible moment. Tiger is taking this away from us. He gives us coronations instead of competitions. Alas, he is too good. He is a glorious peacock among scuffling mud hens. He has won an incomprehensible 13 of his last 23 tournaments.
Pro-golfer Tom Watson says of Woods, "He has raised the bar to a level only he can jump." Proof of Watson's perceptiveness is in the numbers. At the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland, Woods never was threatened and won by eight shots, 19 under par. Second place finisher Ernie Els conceded even if he had played the best he could, he couldn't have shot 19 under.
At the US Open at Pebble Beach last month, Woods didn't simply beat the best golfers in the world, he humiliated them in a 15-shot victory. Jack Nicklaus is regarded as the best golfer ever. But Nick Faldo says he believes that Woods is "probably stronger than Nicklaus was."
Faldo was asked when he would win another major tournament. "When Tiger retires," he said.
Woods is the first person to hold three of the four major championship titles - the PGA, US Open, and British Open - at the same time since Ben Hogan did in 1953. He's only the fifth golfer to win all four majors, which includes the Masters. The others were Hogan, Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Gene Sarazen. Yet, Woods is spoiling everybody's fun - fans as well as other players. But the key lies not in Woods but in the other players. It's up to them to get better.
In football when one team scores a lopsided victory over another, the issue often is raised as to whether the winning team ran up the score needlessly. This is a hollow argument. It is not up to the winning team to throttle back in order to assist the under-powered losing team. Same with Tiger Woods. The golf course offers equal opportunity. So does the practice range. And so does the inner self.
It was former President Calvin Coolidge who said, "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence." Sometimes it seems as if the other golfers are resigned to losing to Woods and that he has drained them of their resolve.
A sound case can be made, however, that maybe Woods's repeated wins are more boring than Nicklaus's because Woods's competitors may not be as good. Els and David Duval and Colin Montgomerie are OK but gut instinct says they don't measure up to Nicklaus's competitors - Arnold Palmer, Player, Watson, Lee Trevino, Billy Casper.
This is not Woods's problem but it is part of the problem. And if Woods's colleagues can't rise to coming occasions, then they'll have to get used to the idea that if you're not the lead dog, the view never changes. As former veep Dan Quayle once put it, "If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure."
What golf needs is another Tiger. Palmer and Nicklaus made each other better, just as McEnroe and Connors and Navratilova and Evert did in tennis and Magic and Bird did in basketball. Alas, no Tiger II seems to be on the prowl. But, some day, we will hear a rustling and a new snarl. No wonder Woods strolled down the fairways on the "old course" with his hands in his pockets, the universal gesture of casual aplomb.
Woods has become the nation's No. 1 sports hero, replacing Michael Jordan, who had surpassed Muhammad Ali. That's terrific. But he needs challengers because walkovers make us doze.
Maybe the hope is we have seen Tiger at his best? "Definitely not," he says.
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