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In Sports Commentary

Tiger Woods is back winning tournaments. Is that good for golf? (PHOTO: Tony Bowler / Shutterstock.com )

Tiger Woods is back, but is that good for golf?


It's almost like half the world has been holding its breath just waiting for the return of the prodigal son.

And if this season of Easter is all about resurrection it's important to take note of it because the climb out of that dark cave is just about complete.

Let's clear up any possible confusion here: The prodigal son we are talking about is Tiger Woods, who doesn't wear sandals and keeps his hair trimmed short to help impress his new, blonde, beautiful girlfriend.

Woods is the best golfer in the world. He may well be the best of all time.

After his long struggle back from mental, emotional and health problems, all carried out in spectacularly public glare, he is once again the most dominant golfer in the world – by far.

The question is whether this is a good thing or not. Not for Woods, of course. For him it's a good thing.

But what about the rest of us? What about the PGA Tour? What about the game of golf?

There are two very distinct arguments on all sides of the question.

"Tiger's Troops" (no relation to Arnie's Army) think this is just wonderful. Television ratings rise significantly when Woods is in the hunt for a victory. Put Rickie Fowler against Keegan Bradley for a title fight and the yawns from the television audience are deafening.

His fans say it's great he's back since he is such a heroic figure. The best ever playing at his best level. He's so cute. He's in such good shape. He's black and he brings millions of new kids to the game of golf. He gets huge ratings for television. He's helped make Nike one of the top names in golf. He donates lots to charity through his foundation.

The group of people who don't have the "TW" logo on their pajamas feel a little differently. He behaved like a slut, they say. He wrecked his family by his flings, including those with porn stars. His wife kicked him out. Most of his endorsement deals were ended. Why should we care about Tiger Woods when he doesn't care about us?

The answers are probably somewhere in the middle.

Woods did behave like a slut and broke up his marriage and family. He lied. And then he lied some more to cover up his behavior. But one thing we do pretty well in this country is forgive, especially when sexual indiscretion is involved. It is perhaps a measure of our intelligence and empathy as a country that we can frequently forgive, even if we don't ever forget.

Most of us don't go out and buy stuff just because Tiger says he uses it. We are generally sophisticated enough to understand the concept of the paid endorsement.

I think the most important question is whether Woods is good for the game of golf.

And I think the answer may well be no, just as much as the answer is yes.

Now that he's back on top of his game, much of the mystery has gone out of the professional tournaments. If he's in the tournament he's always the overwhelming favorite. Throughout his career, the media has has always created imaginary challengers to the Woods domination. First it was Sergio Garcia. Then Ernie Els and Retief Goosen. Phil Mickelson has come closest to being a rival, but that's more in the hearts of people than on the course.

Woods is almost 40 years old and unless he injures himself or succumbs again to the pleasure and pain of the flesh, he's probably got another 10 years to lead the tour. He shows absolutely no evidence of being a changed person. He still doesn't smile or wave to fans. He doesn't seem to answer questions with anything other than the kind of robotic response he's had since he started playing pro golf.

I was in the news conference when he announced he was turning pro at Brown Deer. His first words – "Hello world" – were certainly vetted by a bank of PR agents, and ever since that moment every word he says sounds like it has come from a script written by a sixth grade elocution teacher.

I think Woods is boring. I can't imagine him sitting around in his bare feet in a locker room shooting the bull with other guys. Unless there's a TV camera and a script in his lap. And, no matter how good he is, I think that's harmful in a number of ways.

If kids find him a role model, they may well learn that you have to be a closed-off robotic human being to have the kind of focus needed to be the best golfer in the world. I don't think that's a good thing for kids to learn, even if they do go on to become the best golfer in the world.

The other thing that bothers me a little bit is that Woods has never put himself out there to use his celebrity to advance the cause of the poor and disenfranchised in this country. Simply put, he has acted like a rich old white guy instead of a vibrant and concerned young man of color who could help, a lot. It's not enough to just say you support education and provide funding for some educational activities for kids. From where he is, we have a right to expect more.

So, there's no getting around it. He's back in our lives as a golfer and not as a sinner, at least until Lindsey Vonn takes a baseball swing at his head with a Dynamic Brand Alpine Ski. People will tune in to watch him. Watching a sports event is frequently like reading a great mystery, but if Woods is in the field, this mystery is solved before you even turn to page two.

Talkbacks

AndrewJ | March 26, 2013 at 1:51 p.m. (report)

Great golfer, strange dude. Seems like, kind of as you said, most of his life has been scripted. Take those pictures they recently released of him and Vonn. How weird were those? But then again, nobody was really surprised. Kind of a typical Tiger Woods move.

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TosaJim | March 26, 2013 at 1:06 p.m. (report)

Tiger is a great golfer...but as a human being he is a tool. Nuff said.

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Photodavie | March 26, 2013 at 12:33 p.m. (report)

Dave Begel is back, but is that good for joournalism?

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buck | March 26, 2013 at 12:26 p.m. (report)

He's a hero to some and a villain to others, of course that's good for the game. Your criticism about him not taking up political issues could be said about pretty much every other top modern athlete. What issues did Michael Jordan ever advocate for? Or Wayne Gretzky? Or LeBron? Or ARod?

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