In Defense of Tiger Woods

Yesterday, Tiger Woods shot a 61 to give him a seven-stroke lead in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. He will now almost certainly win the tournament, which would give him four PGA Tour victories this year ahead of next week’s PGA Championship. Even though it isn’t finished, Tiger’s year is already one worthy of yet another Player of the Year award.

But despite his high level of play this year, most of the discourse surrounding him has focused on his failure to win a major tournament since 2008. Some columnists (e.g., Rick Reilly earlier this summer on ESPN.com) wonder what Tiger’s legacy will be if he never wins another major and thus fails to break Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major victories.

While I understand that this is a compelling storyline, it is also a ridiculous one. Whether Woods wins another major or not (and I think he will, and if he does win another major and gets that load off of his back, he will definitely break Nicklaus’s record), the way he has been playing this year makes it clear that he still has a number of prime years left and will obliterate the all-time record for PGA Tour wins, and maybe even become the first player to reach 100 wins. He is the greatest golfer of all time, and it is time the media started treating him as such the way they crowned Michael Jordan the best basketball player ever while he was still playing.

But, of course, there are extenuating circumstances. Aside from Woods’s highly-publicized womanizing and subsequent messy divorce, he is, apparently (just like Jordan!), not the most pleasant guy to be around. So of course many in the media focus on his failures instead of his continuing success. I think especially here of Curtis Strange’s commentary on Woods during the final round of this year’s British Open, which made me want to turn off the television. Strange acted like no one before Woods had ever had a bad final round to fall out of contention at a major at the same time Lee Westwood was doing the exact same thing! (The narrative there was simply “Poor Lee Westwood, will he ever win a major?”)

While I do not condone Woods’s personal behavior during his marriage (I have no problem with him sleeping with multiple women [let’s be honest, ninety percent of heterosexual American men would have done the same thing if they were in his position], but he should have been honest and asked for a divorce before doing so instead of trying to hide it from his wife), I do think it is unfair that the media keeps harping on it. Just compare the way the media treats Woods to how they treat Michael Vick’s story, which is presented as a narrative of redemption. Woods made mistakes, he paid for them both financially and in terms of trying to “get better” by going to rehab, and it is time to move on, which many in the media refuse to do.

It is thus difficult not to read a racist element in the media’s treatment of Woods. He is a black man succeeding in a white sport, and not only did he cheat on his wife, but he was guilty of that most punishable of sins throughout American history, having sex with a white woman. I suppose that, this being America, I shouldn’t be surprised about how Woods gets treated, that he gets judged for things other than his performance on the golf course, but it angers me nonetheless. This is why I continue to root for Woods. He is the one more sinned against than sinning.

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