Has Rory Eclipsed Tiger?
Published: Monday, September 24, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 24, 2012 23:09
Dominance is a tricky thing. In a sporting world that places so much emphasis on training, research and meticulous athletic perfection, it is almost impossible to be dominant in a sport. It is the best against the best. Everyone has access to the same bodybuilding supplements, advanced equipment and personal trainers. It is a level playing field, filled with hundreds of dedicated professionals whose life goal is to be better than you.
I’m not just talking about winning a bunch of games or setting records. Dominance is so much more than that. It’s about controlling the pulse of the sport year after year, winning championship after championship until you become the standard-bearer for how the game should be played. It is about defying the odds, achieving the unimaginable despite injury and controversy. It is about being consistently better than the best in the world.
Your name becomes synonymous with the sport itself.
Babe Ruth was baseball. Michael Jordan was basketball. Boxing had Ali; swimming, Phelps; tennis, Federer. Each of these figures dominated their own segment of sports history. Yet, as great as they all were, each was eventually replaced by a new generation of athletes.
Once in a while there is a changing of the guard, and some of the most iconic moments in sports occur when we witness the old usher in the new. Back in 2003, Kobe and Jordan were dueling on the same court. Nadal and Djokovic are challenging Federer’s monopoly on greatness. Rookies like Robert Griffin III are taking the NFL by storm. Seventeen-year-old Missy Franklin is the new face of the U.S. swimming team.
Yet no sport fully captures this seismic shift like golf, partly because no player has really dominated a sport like Tiger Woods has.
For over a decade, Tiger was golf’s poster child, winning 14 majors and over $100 million in tournament earnings. In every sense, Tiger literally was golf. Many of us would turn on the TV not for golf but for Tiger. We wanted to see him crush drives down the middle of the fairway and sink putts on impossible greens. We wanted to see that red Nike shirt on Sundays. We wanted to hear his celebrations and see his uppercuts swinging through the air.
I usually hate watching the same people win over and over, but Tiger was an exception. He made me want to play golf. He made me want to watch a sport that has less contact and lower scoring than soccer.
But the glory days are over. Golf has changed, and Tiger is no longer the dominant, red-shirted clutch machine that he used to be. While most of the news is still focused on Tiger, it is less about his victories and more about his challengers. While the passage of time has slowly separated Tiger from the sex scandal of 2009, something is just not right. He cannot control his temper, his putting is not what it used to be and he cannot pull away in the third and fourth rounds of tournaments.
Meanwhile, everyone around him seems to be getting better. When golfer Greg Norman commented that Rory McIlroy — the curly-haired Irishman who has nine top-five finishes and four wins this year — “intimidates” Tiger, the reality of Tiger’s demise began to set in.
Although Norman may have overstated Woods’ fears, he does make a good point. Tiger is no longer untouchable. He misses drives on the 18th hole and pushes birdie putts wide of the mark. He chokes, has mental lapses and even misses tournament cuts.
And although it sounds sacrilegious to denigrate golf’s iconic player, why shouldn’t Tiger be intimidated by McIlroy? At 23 years old, the kid reminds Tiger of everything he used to be. It’s like playing with a flashback of your past. McIlroy outdrives Tiger, has a stronger short game and plays without the baggage that weighs Woods down.
I’m not saying that Tiger isn’t good anymore. He still finds himself near the top of the leaderboards, and, at 36 years old, he even has a reasonable chance to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major wins. But other golfers stand in the way.
So, while he may not be intimidated by McIlroy, Tiger no longer intimidates everyone else. He has been wrenched down from his tower and brought down to our level. He has ceased to be dominant; it is anybody’s game now. The Tiger era is coming to an end.
Nick Fedyk is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. MORE THAN A GAME appears every Tuesday.