Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Masters!

In case you hadn't heard the hubbub (or if you somehow missed the commercial), Tiger Woods returned to Golf last week. After a 20-week hiatus following a crippling sex scandal, the world's greatest golfer jumped right back onto one of the sport's biggest stages: the Masters Tournament at Augusta National. As so often happens, with Tiger comes a spike in viewership - the 2010 Masters garnered the second-highest ratings in the tourney's history, trailing only Woods's 1997 breakout victory.

Along with a large audience, Tiger brought his usual intensity to the field, cursing himself at the bad shots, pumping his fists at the good. What he didn't bring was the poise and wherewithal necessary to win his 5th Green Jacket (which also would have been good for his 72nd career PGA Tour victory). He had an inconsistent week, including 5 bogeys in the last round, and finished tied-for-fourth. Not bad, considering his extended absence from competitive play. And considering everything that must have been rushing through his head, including his well-publicized marital troubles and the fact that he apparently hears the voice of his dead father giving him curiously relevant advice... in black-and-white... on TV...

But fourth place was not good enough for Tiger, despite the extenuating circumstances. He enters tournaments to win, and if he doesn't win, it's a disappointment. And this year is even more of a disappointment, because he's never going to shake that media monkey off his back except with a decisive victory. Furthermore, his lack of a victory is that much harder to swallow because he lost to a devoted family man, Phil Mickelson.

Philly came into Sunday's final round with somewhat of a handicap (no, not the Golf kind...) - he wasn't particularly well-rested because he spent the night tending to his daughter's rollerblading injury. Even on the eve of the final day of one of the most important tournaments of the year, Mickelson still finds time to spare when his family is in need.

But a broken arm isn't the only trouble in the Mickelson household - Phil and his wife Amy have been dealing with their own issues, which caused Mickelson to take his own hiatus from the game. Now, I can tell that you're about to go off on a judgmental rage and shout, "Oh, geez, first Tiger and now the Mickelsons!? WHAT is it about Golf that breeds family troubles?"

But before you do, take a moment to scroll back up and consider the logo on the left side of Phil's cap. That's right: it's the pink breast-cancer awareness ribbon. Amy Mickelson was diagnosed with breast cancer in May of 2009, causing Phil to suspend his Golfing career to be with his family.

Wow, didn't those words I put in your mouth make you feel bad once I told you the rest of the story. That's called "Manipulative Writing," folks.

But in all seriousness, Phil Mickelson's victory proves that Golf is, above all, a family game.

Wait, that's not right. Because Golf is at bottom an individual sport. Just you against the clock, er, house... I mean, course. Maybe Mickelson's victory proves that strong families make strong individuals. Yeah, that sounds right. Let's go with that. Plus, a little luck (good, or bad) doesn't hurt.

I'm glad that Mickelson won his third Green Jacket, because he played well enough to deserve it. I'm also glad because it gives the Tiger Woods scandal circus a chance to slide gracefully into the ground. It was never going to just disappear - even if Tiger won the tourney, he wouldn't have shut up the critics. Rather than proving to the world that his troubles were safely behind him, a win would likely have made it seem as if Tiger was unfazed by (read: insensitive to) the plight of his family.

A complete meltdown would have been even worse, painting a picture of Woods as an ex-great who may not ever be the same after finally having to face his numerous mistakes. No, Woods's performance was perfectly balanced: sharp at times, inconsistent at times, displaying competence, but not reaching his full potential. A couple more matches like this one, a couple more heartfelt apologies, and a couple fewer exploitative commercials, and it should be business as usual back in the professional golf world.

Which means, unfortunately for the American media, that gossip about fallen heroes will be replaced with rank speculation about the color of Tiger's shirt in the upcoming tournament.