Monday, July 24, 2006

Woods' British Open Win Cements His Status (He's the best)

I'm an appreciator of history when it comes to sports.

My M.O. is not to gush over today's athlete, and declare him (or her) unequivocally the greatest who's ever excelled at the sport in question. In fact, I've always scoffed at those types.

"Isn't Michael Jordan just the greatest player ever?," those types will blurt.

"You ever hear of a guy named Oscar Robertson?," I would dearly love to reply, not expecting an answer.

I am one who's apt to give the nod to Jimmy Brown as the greatest running back ever, Johnny Unitas as the greatest quarterback, and Gordie Howe as the greatest hockey player. Rarely will someone from the 21st century, or late 20th, be anointed as such by this old curmudgeon.

But Tiger Woods defies all that. He is, quite simply, the greatest golfer to ever slip on spiked shoes and traipse across a fairway. This weekend's British Open was just another example.

He was not all that far removed from missing the cut -- missing the cut -- at the US Open. He's still fighting through the death of his father. And here he was in Liverpool, still the most feared player on the board. Because they know -- oh, they know -- that a Tiger Woods who's been knocked down a notch or two is the most dangerous Tiger Woods that there is. Some sentences are worth ending in a preposition.

Woods was in control all weekend, always a stick's length ahead of the pack, it seemed. Never a moment when you felt like it could get away. Never a time when you doubted his prowess.

But when it was over, yet another major win in his golf bag, the emotions took over. Openly, Woods wept. Perhaps for his father. Perhaps for the realization that he was back. Perhaps the appreciation for victories is more so nowadays. Regardless, he let it go, before the cameras and microphones and the gathered masses.

"You only have one mom and dad," second place finisher Chris DiMarco said. DiMarco himself lost his mother earlier this month, to a heart attack.

Earl Woods certainly was present at the British -- not only in his son's mind, but in those of the folks who watched the tournament. The ones who were any sort of golf fan, that is. This is because when someone attains the level that Tiger Woods has, he enjoys his triumphs and guts out his failures with millions of others -- mostly adoring eyes.

There are those who would maybe argue with me about Woods being the greatest golfer ever. I never saw Bobby Jones. Or Ben Hogan. And maybe I don't remember Arnold Palmer at his zenith. And hey, have I forgotten about Jack Nicklaus?

Bah humbug to all that. I'm shedding the curmudgeon label for this instance. Tiger Woods trumps them all. Sunday's win was his third British Open title (second in a row), and 11th major victory. The bounce back from the US Open debacle is complete -- and it only took him a month to do it.

He's still the standard.

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