There is nothing in sports right now quite like Tiger Woods rejoining the PGA Tour. It’s only been a few months, but he’s as riveting as ever. The rest of the game pales in comparison.
Tiger wins, whether it is by dominating or grinding better than the rest. Even when he doesn’t win, he’s the center of things, the point by which all around him are measured, leaving most saying he’s the best ever. Statistically, maybe so.
But there’s been a lot of those pronouncements lately, probably because it is quite a time at the top of the sports world. Everywhere we look it seems like another athlete is rewriting expectations.
There’s Roger Federer in tennis, possessing so complete a game that even John McEnroe and other greats have been forced intoadmiration, even with his humbling loss in the Australian Open. But Federer has an Achilles’ heel on clay in the name of Rafael Nadal.
There’s Tom Brady pushing the quarterback envelope to heights once reserved for Joe Montana. It’s at football’s biggest moments that Montana made his mark and Brady is doing the same. But Joe still has Tom in the Super Bowl race 4-3.
LeBron James gives basketball fans the feeling that he’s taken what Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson had talent-wise and pushed his way to a new level. But he’s yet to win a championship and, until he does, there’s still some climbing to do.
Sidney Crosby is a breathtaking specimen of a hockey player, clearly the most talented of his generation. But Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux set the bar pretty high for rink rats round the world. Just check all those inscriptions on the Stanley Cup.
Athletes are obviously bigger, faster and perfecting technique like never before. But it’s the magnitude of their feats at their game’s biggest moments where we must measure them against the best.
World Series. Super Bowls. Majors. Olympics. NBA Finals. Stanley Cups. These are the truest markers. Remember this the next time an athlete pushes his or her way up against a sport’s ceiling.
Even Tiger has something left to do. Although he hits it farther, beats them more readily, makes ’em quick to say he’s better than Jack Nicklaus ever was, Tiger has never made that dramatic comeback from he-had-no-chance, that double-take climb up the Sunday leaderboard of a major. Nothing like Nicklaus in the 1986 Masters.
Greg Norman led going into Sunday’s final round in ’86, with six players within two shots of his lead. Jack, at 46 years old, was four shots back and thought to be washed up as a major threat. And for most of that Sunday he was.
After eight holes without a birdie, Jack birdied No. 9, then carded five more birdies and an eagle, shooting 30 on Augusta’s back nine, roaring past them all to win his sixth green jacket. It was breathtaking.
Something breathtaking will come from Tiger this year. No telling where or when, but there’s another story to be written with his name on it, maybe as great as Jack’s ’86 Masters.
Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner.