Tiger Woods turned in some of the most spectacular golf you will ever see on the back nine at Torrey Pines on Saturday, rolling in two long, snaking eagle putts and pitching in a miracle chip for birdie from a ridiculous lie on the 17th.
But there are more powerful reasons why I’ll root for Tiger today.
There’s no shortage of hyperbole about Tiger in the paper and on the airwaves today; Rick Reilly, in one of his first on-camera pieces for ESPN, went so far as to compare Saturday’s performance to “getting to see Sinatra sing, Koufax pitch, or Chuck Yeager fly,” adding, “The gods have chosen Tiger.”
And, yes, Tiger can turn golf into a glamour sport by hitting all the marvelous shots he does, but he’s never been more like the local duffer than he will be today, and he’s still got 18 holes between donning some swoosh-adorning, form-fitting crimson shirt and his third U.S. Open title.
The pain from his surgically reconstructed knee turned the Tiger who rips majestic drives off the tee and surveys his handiwork in that victorious pose, driver twirling, to a slightly less fierce version, one just as likely to be bent over and grimacing in pain as the ball veers far left or right as to be coolly confident.
Now, of course, even Tiger’s miscues are epic; the rough landing of an errant drive is still probably 300 yards from the tee box. But make no mistake, even though his knee will probably be treated with a cortisone shot or four before the round, it will hurt Tiger, and, as he mentioned in a post-round press conference, will do so capriciously.
Suddenly, for a guy who’s fought a swing with prodigious length and sometimes ponderous accuracy most of his career, tee shots are even more challenging, and for a guy whose fantastic wood and iron play has saved him this week, that strength could be sapped in a second.
This, of course, doesn’t mean he’s not Tiger Woods, owner of 13 major championships and arguably the greatest golfer to have ever picked up a putter, and it doesn’t mean he won’t throw something unfathomable at the course and win by eight strokes.
But it means that unfathomable round, more than on every other Sunday at a major in his career, could just as conceivably be an 80, should all the nightmare scenarios converge.
And yet, if Tiger potentially winning as an Everyman for once isn’t enough, there’s the emotional heft of Tiger Woods in contention at the U.S. Open on Father’s Day.
He’ll be there for the first time as a father, as wife Elin gave birth to daughter Sam a day after last year’s Open. And though his late father, Earl, wasn’t at either of his previous triumphs, he’ll certainly be there in spirit, thanks to one of his dad’s quirks.
Certainly, on a weekend that saw Tim Russert, one of America’s most prominent touchstones for the father-son relationship pass away, it would be great theater to see a man so thoroughly shaped by his extremely close relationship with his father be able to point skyward to acknowledge the past and then hold his present and future in his arms.
I am no fan of journalists rooting for storylines, for the easy column for Monday’s paper; unquestionably, with a Tiger win today, the fawning columns will write themselves.
But I am a fan, not a journalist, and I have always been a fan of Tiger Woods, and I have watched his successes and failures with my own father on many a Sunday.
My dad won’t be on the couch next to me today; he’s on an extended business trip and won’t be back in town for a couple more weeks.
But I’ll be texting him, calling him, and finding a way to share this with him.
So I’m rooting for Tiger to give me something unforgettable to share.