— Dear Tiger Woods,
I was rummaging around on your website, scrolling past the stock photos of you squinting into the distance and clicking on your comments about your upcoming return to the PGA Tour, the ones where you noted that you were “excited about competing” at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, “very excited about competing” in the Australian Open and — presumably — “very, very excited about” increasing the thesaurus budget for your PR Team.
Anyway, buried beneath almost two years of virtual dust was an abandoned section called “Dear Tiger”. Remember when you did that? You’d take a few minutes from polishing your Wannamaker trophies or frantically deleting text messages to answer readers’ questions about everything from your running routine to your favorite Halloween candy. (You were pretty vague on that one but — based on your dating history — I would’ve guessed Airheads).
The last questions you responded to were on Nov. 24, 2009, less than 72 hours before your world would explode like an Escalade-rammed fire hydrant. Fast-forward through twelve months of fallout, through first round exits at the Accenture and second opinions on your ACL, you’re back. Again.
Now that you’ve committed to both Bridgestone and at the PGA Championship, I don’t expect you to spend much time dot com-ming. But, just in case, I do have a question for you, Dear Tiger, one about your superhyped appearance in Akron this week.
Why, exactly, should we still care? I mean, you haven’t collected a giant cardboard check, an embroidered dinner jacket or an oversized platter from the PGA Tour since September 2009; that was two Harry Potters and three putters ago.
Last week you fell to No. 28 in the World Golf Rankings, dropping out of the top 20 for the first time since 1997. You’ve only played half a round of competitive golf since April and the word “competitive” might be an overstatement, since you withdrew from the Players Championship after carding a 42 on the front nine. A 42! There are Employee Picnics where that wouldn’t earn you a lopsided plastic trophy.
Did you forget that we went through this a year ago? We watched as the exclamation points about your return were replaced with question marks after seeing you play. You missed the cut at Quail Hollow. You couldn’t break par at the AT&T. And when you limped into Akron, you tied for next-to-last place with a bloated +18 chalked beside your name. We’d say you’ve played lamely, but that would be unfair to Derek Lamely ... who actually won last year.
Counting Derek’s Puerto Rico Open, 84 PGA Tournaments and 64 different winners have come and gone since the last time you finished on top of the leaderboard, including a chunk of the alphabet that stretches from Stephen Ames to Gary Woodland. There were a pair of Rorys (McIlroy and Sabbatini) and three Johnsons (Dustin, Zach and Johnson Wagner) although yours is the only one anyone’s still talking about.
Dating back to your 2008 US Open title, the 13 Majors have been won by 12 different men from seven different countries. One of the few things they have in common? They had to play while standing in your Swoosh-shaped shadow, as the announcers whispered about what you could’ve done, should’ve done or have yet to do.
That still doesn’t seem fair. We shouldn’t have spent the U.S. Open draping Rory McIlroy with the “Next Tiger Woods” banner. We didn’t have to drop your name into all those unrelated tournaments. Just last weekend, a rain delay at the Greenbrier Classic left plenty of open airtime to talk about, well, you.
“More importantly than the clearance from the doctor, there’s got to be clearance from his mind,” Nick Faldo said about you. “He must have tested this knee and knows it’s 100 percent, or whatever his 100 percent can be. He has to have complete trust in his knee.”
Less than two days had passed since you’d tweeted that you were — big surprise — “excited” to play at Firestone and already the commentators had to ask for extra towels to de-froth their headphone mics.
This, for a guy who hasn’t won in twenty-two months. Know who else hasn’t won since then? John Rollins. Or Bo Van Pelt. Where are the run-on sentences charting their next moves or the endless speculation about where they might pop up next (Hint: Probably in the breakfast buffet line at the Akron Holiday Inn).
Maybe we’d hear about them — or about guys like Greenbrier winner Scott Stallings — if we weren’t being bombarded with every detail of your life, on the course or off, whether you’re re-grooving your irons (Not a euphemism) or letting a Perkins waitress comp you a Country Sausage Scrambler (Euphemism AND menu item).
In the past two weeks, we’ve heard about your $54 million outlet mall-sized mansion, your coach told us that you haven’t hit any golf balls, and you kicked longtime caddie Steve Williams back to New Zealand, replacing the bag on his shoulder with a You-sized chip.
“You could say I’ve wasted two years of my life,” Williams said about everything that’s happened since late fall ’09.
So have we, Steve. SO. HAVE. WE.
The idea that we should all be perched on the edge of our BarcaLoungers, holding our collective breath for your gloooooorious return has gotten ridiculous. What, exactly, is going to change on Tour? You’re not the Old Tiger coming back to claim his territory. You’re just Older Tiger, 35 with a rebuilt left knee that you probably couldn’t trade to Nancy Kerrigan.
While you were gone, plenty of other guys have played week in and week out, putting consistency on their calendars and building the kind of confidence that won’t be undercut by seeing you in the scorer’s tent. Watching you walk the fairway on Sunday afternoon (and we will this Sunday, since there’s no cut at the Bridgestone for you to miss) wearing a red shirt isn’t terrifying anymore. Know who else wears a red shirt sometimes? Hello Kitty.
Yes, Tiger, you were amazing. You’ve collected 97 wins and 14 Majors and you deserved every headline you snagged, the ones before That Thanksgiving. And afterward? Yeah, you deserved those too. I’m not saying you’ll never win again. You will. You’ll probably even add to your pile of green jackets and shelf of claret jugs.
You’re just not ready yet. And I’m not ready to immerse myself in TigerMania again. We know you’re “very excited” and I’m sure I would be too, as soon as you give me something to be excited about (again, not a euphemism).
So don’t call me, Tiger. I’ll call you. Right after you do something — a golf-related something — worth talking about.