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Will Tiger be up to the test?

Remember when Tiger Woods’ biggest problem was that he couldn’t win a Grand Slam in the same year, despite owning all four majors titles from the 2000 U.S. Open to the 2001 Masters?
Have you forgotten that mysterious "Tiger Slump" from the British Open of 2002 stretching until he snapped the skid with his fourth Green Jacket in 2005, despite winning 11 different tournaments over that span and maintaining his No. 1 world ranking?
Some skid. Guess the New England Patriots, Duke Blue Devils and New York Yankees should retool too.
Heck, the one writer who brought it into perspective was the late, great Rick Woodson. The ol’ professor even made Tiger himself chuckle at a press conference by prefacing his question in his aw-shucks Louisiana drawl: "Tiger-I’d LOVE to have your slump, by the way…"
During that slumber, fans actually questioned whether or not Tiger would ever catch Jack Nicklaus’ record of 19 majors. Hard to believe that sentiment, considering the six majors Eldrick has won since, including the U.S. Open where he needed five rounds and a sudden-death playoff to beat Rocco Mediate, limping around Torrey Pines on his putter.
Whatever happened to Rocco Mediate?
"That Rocco Guy" has won six tournaments in his career, and has played in only six majors since 2008.
Fast forward to 2013. Rochester has a lot of memories of the 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill-except, of course, the name of the guy who won it.
Yeah, him. The guy who left Pittsford with the Wanamaker Trophy a couple hours after Tiger had already finished in a tie for 39th, packed his Buick and headed back to Jupiter Island. Remember that guy?
Shaun Micheel’s 2003 victory was the Indiana grad’s only tour title. He’s missed the cut in 24 majors since, and participated in only six of the last 20. Ask a casual golf fan who won at Oak Hill in ’03. "Tiger Woods" sounds smarter than, "Uh, wuhwasisnameagain?"
Woods this year will be the favorite in the galleries, in the practice rounds, at the restaurants, in the press room and on camera, just like 2003. But the chatter surrounding the world’s No. 1 golfer will be the same as it was a decade ago:
Will he catch Jack?
Will he recover?
Will he ever be Tiger again?
He hasn’t been the same since the affairs.
Tiger is so big, and so polarizing, folks forget everyone else’s problems. Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy-two of the most likable players on the tour-have combined to win three majors since, yet are lauded with praise as being either golf’s sentimental favorite or the heir apparent to Woods’ empire.
In June, fans witnessed a repeat of Lefty’s 2004 Shinnecock stutter with another U.S. Open implosion. Since winning the Masters in 2010, Mickelson has won only three other tournaments-one each in the last three years. Just for comparison, Tiger has already won four this year.
Then there’s McIlroy admitting in June he’s "lost."
But Tiger. Oh, there’s just something about Tiger.
Affairs. Therapy. Divorce. Caddy smack. Swing issues. "Mashed Potato." Books. Sergio Garcia stealing Fuzzy Zoeller’s material. Lindsay Vonn. And no major championships since major knee surgery in 2008.
No, no. Those 13 titles since don’t seem to matter. Even the seven in the last 17 months. Why? We have a new pastime in America: taking winners and turning them back into losers and never-weres.
With 24-hour sports TV and radio networks, Twitter and blogs, someone needs to fill time.
Nobody can rip Peyton Manning anymore for not winning the Big One, so they crush him for not winning as many as his little brother. LeBron James, thanks to a clutch Ray Allen three-pointer, is still in the G.O.A.T. discussion, rather than the "goat" discussion.
And when athletes like LeBron, or Tiger-icons on a first-name basis-have off-the-field issues, it’s even more fun.
This year is no different. And that includes Rochester. Here’s America striping Tiger before the 95th PGA Championship with the same hyperbole spewed a decade ago, questioning whether the most dominant American athlete in the world has anything left. Unless, of course, he wins; then we’ll all be planting our flag in the 18th hole like it’s Mt. Everest and plastering Tiger banners on every lightpost in Pittsford as if he’s Nancy Lopez. (But he needs to win here, first. Then he’s ours.)
This year, Oak Hill will be no different from what it was in 2003-all eyes will be on Tiger, even if he’s trailing by a dozen strokes on Sunday. Tiger is golf. The sport needs him more than he needs golf. And there’s only one athlete in America who can stake that claim in any sport.
Great is great. And only the greatest bring out the best-and worst-in all of us.
Tiger may not win at Oak Hill this year. But he’ll win again. And again. And again.
He’s Tiger Woods. And he’s too big to fail.

Dan Borrello is sports director of 96.5 WCMF/Sports Radio 950 ESPN. In college he was a student of Rick Woodson, RBJ sports columnist from 1996 until he passed away five months ago.

8/2/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email [email protected].


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