The sports world is abuzz because Tiger Woods appears ready to contend in this year’s Masters Tournament. Woods electrified the sports world for decades after winning his first Masters in 2001. Woods’s Masters win mattered not just because of his greatness and promise as a player, but because of his race. For a person of color to win at Augusta was a victory of historic proportions. For his victory to be celebrated by so many who had excluded men who looked like Woods for so long seemed to mark a passage of sorts. At Augusta, somehow, golf escaped its segregated past — with Tiger Woods as the new symbol of the suddenly inclusive game.
Two years ago, Woods was again in the newspapers for reasons that transcended golf. Over the course of a few weeks, his personal life fell apart in plain view as a consequence of serial infidelity of the most sensational sort — porn stars, waitresses, and text messages. It was all so tawdry, it became tedious.
But then, as he returned to competition, it appeared that he had lost his game. Until the Bay Hill tournament a couple of weeks ago, Tiger Woods had not won a PGA Tour event since the night his then wife chased him with a golf club. And he has lost in decidedly unsportsmanlike fashion. He has thrown clubs, whined, appeared frustrated, and hit golf shots amateurs would be embarrassed about. I confess to having enjoyed his struggle and feeling that he somehow deserved it. Watching him win a couple of Sundays ago, I felt disappointed. I had hoped that he would fail.
I feel that not because my own life has been above reproach. Who other than Mitt Romney can claim that? Tiger’s arrogance combines with the lack of joy he shows for the game to make him a completely unlikeable presence. I find I am troubled by entitlement. Enormously successful people, like Romney or Woods, get there in part by skill and in part by good fortune. When they acknowledge and seem to appreciate their good fortune, they can inspire. When they turn petulant, they cannot. If Woods wins this weekend, I will be disappointed. There is no grace in his return to form. Instead, he is without contrition and without appreciation for the gift of another chance.
So this weekend, I am going to root for a young man from Northern Ireland — Rory McIlroy. McIlroy hits the ball a mile and smiles whenever he does. If he were to win this weekend, he might remind us all of the fun and luck that are at the center of the game. Sometimes the ball rolls in the hole; sometimes it finds the water. Like the opportunity to play the game itself, winning is good fortune, plain and simple.