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Why Tiger?

Marvin R. Shanken, Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Tiger Woods, May/June 2008

It's a good question. He's not a cigar smoker, unless chided into it by Michael Jordan on some remote part of a very private golf course. But he is simply one of the greatest athletes ever to play any sport at any time in history. You can speak about Tiger Woods in the same breath as you mention Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali, Pelé, Wayne Gretzky and, yes, Michael Jordan. These men elevated their sports, and in some cases, changed the ground rules for it, while rewriting record books that have stood the test of time. Tiger is on the verge of making that same kind of history in the world of golf.

What is it about Tiger? He has certainly transcended golf. The public's awareness of his name, and his face, ranks right up with some of the most famous movie stars or politicians of our time. He earns many times his annual golf winnings in endorsements from companies that want to associate their products with his aura of excellence.

Excellence is the key word, and it is one of the reasons we sought to do a story about him. Yes, we love golf, and are avid fans of everything about the game. But if you remember back to Tiger's early days on the PGA Tour, he never wavered, nor was ever shy, about stating his goal to become the best golfer that had ever teed it up. His stated desire to best Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major championships seemed almost naïve, and even Tiger admitted that it was a goal that could be derailed by injury or that mysterious breakdown that happens to great golfers sometimes. Nonetheless, it didn't stop Tiger from laying down the challenge to himself. He has worked harder and harder to achieve the goal, even reengineering a swing that produced a record-winning margin in the 1997 Masters. Most experts now agree it is not a question of if he'll break Nicklaus's record, but when.

We live in a time when professional athletes seem to have lost the burning desire to compete. They make so much money, and become so comfortable in their lives, without a shred of financial worry, that it does something to their competitive zeal. Most would deny it. But we, the fans, see it every season in every sport. In most sports, the only games where you see full effort from first whistle to last second are the ones in the playoffs.

Half-hearted effort or a blasé reaction to competition is the last thing you expect to see when you watch Tiger Woods in a golf tournament. Every shot is contested, and he concentrates on making every shot the best that he possibly can. In our story, veteran golf writer Jeff Williams documents how his opponents struggle with the knowledge that one mistake against Tiger can mean defeat, because in the heat of competition, Tiger rarely makes those fatal mistakes, and he will always take the risk of producing the best shot and the lowest score. Like Jordan wanting the ball in the closing seconds, or the Babe calling his home run shot, Tiger possesses a supreme confidence born of absolute mastery that he can do it whenever he calls upon his God-given abilities.

It's what sets Tiger apart not only from his fellow golfers today, but from athletes in all sports. And it is why we bring him to you through the lens of fans who admire excellence in all walks of life.

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