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Viewpoint: The world is better when Tiger is Tiger

This was an interesting weekend in the national sporting sphere. It was a weekend of big names (Lebron James) and big wins (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) for some sports fans, and those big names and big wins led to big coverage across the country, which only made Father’s Day more entertaining for the national army of armchair-riding Dad Day celebrators.

But in the world of sports, there’s one name from this weekend getting bigger attention than the others combined, and it isn’t because of a big win.

Tiger Woods, coming off a recent solid win at the 2012 Memorial Tournament in Ohio, was an early favorite this weekend in the U.S. Open, the United States’ golf championship. Played at the Olympic Club in San Francisco and a traditionally difficult course, the tournament seemed to be within Tiger’s grasp after the first two days. Young golfers competing alongside him were shaking in their boots, both hoping and dreading to see the Tiger finally come back and rip through a sea of khakis to claim the U.S. Open title for the third time. They’d all grown up trying to emulate his fiery demeanor.

The PGA veterans, men like David Toms, Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson, who’d spent the years 1997-2009 just competing for second place, saw that look about Tiger’s game and just took off their hats and sighed, ready for another tournament where Mr. Woods handed them a package of short straws.

But, sitting comfortably within reach of the leader’s mark, Tiger went and choked on Saturday, blowing a tap-in putt for par on the eighth hole, a chip on the 18th and the remainder of his confidence along with it. Sunday’s play was even more disappointing, with four bogeys and a double bogey in the first six holes.

Of course, because this is 2012, Woods got blasted. “What happened to the god of golf?” analysts asked across the country as Tiger forced a smile and walked away from another big chance to redeem himself in a major tournament. Every swing got mathematically picked apart. TV personalities filed through slideshows of Tiger’s best facial expressions and ran them over and over in slow motion so that America could experience over and over the feeling Tiger got when he baby-putted a gimme shot.

If this were any time before 2009, the year in which Woods ducked out of the spotlight for a while to deal with his failing marriage amid allegations of multiple infidelities, golf junkies would be crawling over each other in an effort to throw their proverbial jackets into the puddle for Woods to walk over.

“The sun was at a bad angle!” they’d shout. “The greens on that course were groomed like an alfalfa field. People kept shouting during his backswing.”

But it isn’t 2009. Woods has had a couple of wins this season and is certainly looking better than he has in three years, but he isn’t the same old Tiger Woods, the man who was arguably the most popular athlete in the world at his peak. Any other struggling player would just get the media “pat on the back and good luck next time” appropriate to the occasion, but not the 10-time PGA Player of the Year. Not the man who won 14 major championships.

And, in a way, it isn’t fair to Tiger.

The winner, by the way, was Webb Simpson. He’s a 26-year-old, it was his first major title, he has a kid, he admitted to a weakness for fried chicken, yeah, yeah. Wonderful.

Tiger should have won it.

Not to say that Tiger hasn’t deserved a little bit of what he got, of course, but the world was better when Tiger was Tiger. He was the best, and then he wasn’t, and now the PGA has had 15 different winners in the last 15 events. A lack of Tiger might be a good thing for competitive parity, but it isn’t good for golf.

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