Oh, the airtime and pixels that were dedicated to Tiger Woods’ second-place finish at the 100th PGA Championships in St. Louis last weekend. For those stuck in a cave somewhere, Tiger roared to a final round 64 at Bellerive Country Club outside St. Louis to place second to young stallion Brooks Koepka who won the third major of his career, while becoming only the fifth golfer to ever take the U.S. Open and PGA titles in the same year (Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen). In the end, Koepka beat Tiger by two, and the field by three and more with his final round 66, 16-under total.
Still, it was the closest run Tiger had made to a major win since Torrey Pines 2008, where he won the U.S. Open on a broken leg, the last of his 14 major titles. His run electrified the St. Louis faithful, and sparked a 69% increase in TV ratings over last year’s PGA.
But the greatest comeback ever, as some pundits were opining if he actually won? Don’t let Ben Hogan fans (or Tiger for that matter) hear you say that. Hogan almost died in a car crash driving home to Texas with his wife after the Phoenix Open in 1949. Docs said he might not ever play golf again, especially after a blood clot permanently closed the major vein to his lower extremities. And yet he came back to win the 1950 U.S. Open 16 months later. Now that is a legendary come back.
The question for Tiger is whether his own surgically repaired bod (knee and back) will continue to hold up in competition as he continues to return to full form at age 42.
With Tiger off the grid for the last ten years dealing with physical and psychological issues, the golf game has suffered serious erosion despite the number of attractive young players coming up. But there is also the aging-out of the Baby Boom generation to contend with, and the lack of interest Millenials have shown in the game.
Yet with Tiger in the hunt at Bellerive, there was something of a wish-fulfillment aspect to the frenzy it generated. Maybe they were hoping for a little too much history here.
Remember, the man Tiger is always compared to in debates over GOAT status, Jack Nicklaus, was no buccaneer like Tiger or Jack’s rival Arnold Palmer. Jack was coldly efficient and methodical, waiting for others to take risks and make mistakes. Jack came in second in a major 19 times to go along with his 18 wins. Tiger’s runner-up in Bellerive last Sunday was his sixth second-place finish in a major added to his 14 titles.
ESPN also got over its skis a bit asking whether another athlete would ever come along to be as transcendent as Tiger. And once again, I’m floored by the lack of historical perspective. Tiger transcendent? Does the name and legacy of Muhammad Ali fade that quickly? Is Tiger even on the same page in the cultural, political, or social canon as Ali? I think not.
Or, is this all part of our current cultural myopia, where there is no past or future, only now and what I say at this moment in time? If, so, second may well be a position this country may soon relish having, never mind who is #1.