Woods might have gotten applause, but he'd be more likable with flaws


July 19, 2005|By Bill Plaschke

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland - The four muscles arrive first.

Wearing Nike shirts, caps and shoes, they surround the green with necks tight and eyes darting.

"Get down! Everybody quiet!" they shout.

The preening caddie comes next.

Behaving as if a golf bag gives one immunity from good manners, Steve Williams forgets he is a guy carrying clubs, acting instead like a thug protecting a don.

"No photos, please, thank you!" he screams with every other breath.

Finally, here comes the golfer himself, strolling and smiling and standing famously over that Nike ball after another mind-swiveling shot, but is it too late? Is he so good, it's bad? Although Tiger Woods conquered the St. Andrews Old Course and every other golfer in winning the British Open on Sunday, he didn't do so well with the mildly clapping fans.

They were, er, polite.

While accounts of his Thursday-to-Sunday sweep for his 10th major title should be worthy of many adjectives, there was only one that worked.

It was, well, numbing.

Woods is not simply a golfer anymore, he is Microsoft, he is Coke, he is Steinbrenner, and that isn't fun.

He is not as beloved as much as he is feared.

He draws fewer embraces than stares.

Where he once was delightful, he has become disembodied.

And when he wins the way he did this weekend, leading the entire tournament, playing defense on the final day, strolling to a five-shot victory that felt like 50 shots, what should be beautiful is just plain boring.

Did you watch it Sunday morning? It was the world's greatest player dominating the world's oldest track, yet did you have trouble staying awake? For the first 11 holes, he played prevent defense, shooting 1-under par while taking only the safest of routes, holding his two-stroke lead.

Then, with Woods on the 12th, in a span of a dozen seconds, Jose Maria Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie both found trouble, and Woods pulled off his best chip of the day, chunking up fairway sand and landing the ball close enough for a makeable putt.

Olazabal bogey. Montgomerie bogey. Woods birdie. Lead doubled. Tournament over. In about a dozen seconds.

"You have to beat Tiger," Montgomerie lamented afterward.

That's because, having never lost in 10 majors in which he has led on Sunday morning, he will not beat himself.

But is he so good, it's bad? Walking with Woods for his final holes, I was witness to many who apparently believed it.

For the first time all week, the ancient room had lost all buzz. It was hard to get a great view of him through his bodyguards, but when they did, the fans cheered Woods the way one might cheer the Mona Lisa.

Instead of the screeching love they showed Jack Nicklaus, they showered Woods with hand-clapping respect.

Where they once seemed to walk the course with Montgomerie, they were content to admire Woods from afar.

He clearly needs to be more tested. He certainly needs to be more human.

"Right now, there is a generation where there's about five guys," he said afterward, but he's wrong.

This week has proved there's just him.

Those other four guys he's talking about? Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh? Woods has won one more major championship than the rest of them combined.

For Tiger Woods to go from great to Nicklaus, from prodigious to Palmer, we need to see him in a fight. We need to see him knocked down. We need to see him escape.

Just as Muhammad Ali did not become truly beloved until he was knocked down, we need to see what Woods can do not only from the lead, but also from the canvas.

Bill Plaschke is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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