Tiger Woods: The Inexplicable Underdog

As Tiger Woods tries to make the most of Moving Day at Augusta, it seems an appropriate time to discuss his standing among the world's best golfers. Through good and bad, he has been the face of golf since he exploded on the scene in what now seems like a parallel universe so many years ago.

At the height of his dominance, Tiger was a machine. A winner by foregone conclusion. For this he was beloved by many and hated by some. There was always that contingent of fans who chafed at his omnipresence on tournament broadcasts at the exclusion of the other golfers. It was a fair criticism, but the most compelling moments in any sport are when the best athletes are performing at their best. And, due to the way golf is played and broadcast, players in contention start later and are featured more. Tiger was on television a lot.

Then the wheels fell of the wagon. And then Tiger was no longer a machine. Whether it was his psyche that failed him or his body, we'll never really know. But it is indisputable that he is no longer the same player. He has been grinding ever since and only won his first PGA event since 2009 two weeks ago.

Watching him scuffle on Friday (and now, Today) makes you (or, me at least) want to pull for him. He has been reduced to kicking his club like some muni-course hacker on the very hole he once magically leaned in an absolutely ridiculous chip shot. For some, this is just more well-deserved schadenfreude—which is fair. When you get right down to it, fandom is who do you like vs. who do you hate, and it shapes everything.

It is easy to tell the story of Tiger Woods as the villain getting his comeuppance. He was obviously never as model a citizen as was depicted. I'll take the other side, though. Tiger is now the underdog, trying to make a comeback in this tournament and his career. A player who once seemed impervious to this most humbling of games has been knocked down and now appears mortal. While it was fun to tune in to tournaments to see just how badly Tiger would destroy his opponents, or what new feat he would accomplish, it is so much more compelling to now watch him struggle and grind to recapture what he once had. We know he can do it, we've seen it before.

It's the knowledge of his past dominance that makes watching him now frustrating, but also exciting. It's like watching a ball slowly drain down towards the pin only to hang on the lip for a few seconds. It's just got to go in.