I suppose I've always been one of the detractors. When I watched him win his last US Amateur and leave poor Steve Scott standing there on the final green waiting to shake his hand while he celebrated and hugged his entourage, my first thought was that this kid has no class. I must admit that he has not done much since to make me change that opinion. But Tiger has been a great player, if not the greatest we've ever seen. And you really must walk a mile in a guys shoes to properly understand him.
I have come to realize that Tiger was and is simply a product of his upbringing and training; just like the rest of us. He had been raised by his father to win. The niceties of the game--respect for your opponent, the fans, possibly even the game, came second to winning. The boulder incident in the desert was the icing on the cake for me. I just couldn't imagine Jack, or Bobby Jones, having the audacity to call on a rules official and ten or twelve fans to move a boulder out of his way, deeming it to be a "loose impediment." It just wouldn't have occurred to them.
Nevertheless, I've softened in my old age because I'm beginning to appreciate just how much we all are a product of our genetics and our upbringing. Most of us, including Tiger, are just trying to do the best we can with what we have to work with. In Tiger's case he had, and still has, a great deal to work with. But even Tiger has had to learn the facts of life. In golf you simply can't win every time you tee it up. In fact, you can't even win most of the time you tee it up. As Jack said, "Golf is the only game where you can win twenty percent of the time and be the best player in the world."
In golf you lose more often than you win. In golf second place does not suck. I think Tiger has had to learn that lesson. When he lost the PGA championship to YE Yang in 2008, after starting the final round with the lead, I don't think Tiger, or anyone else for that matter, doubted that he would win. After all, he'd done it 14 times in a row. He was bullet-proof. That he hasn't won a Major since certainly suggests that it had a big impact on him. Sure there were other things in his personal life; and there were the health issues; but I really believe that loss was a big factor in Tiger's play in the Majors since. He now knew he wasn't bullet-proof; and perhaps even more importantly, so did everyone else.
I hope Tiger can come out this week and play well. If he wins, all the more power to him. But, as Bobby Jones pointed out, there is golf and there is championship golf and they bear very little resemblance to one another. Tiger can hit it great on the range, and shoot in the low sixties in practice rounds. The real test will be how he handles the pressure of the Majors. It's been over eight years since he's won one. And eight years is a long old time.
When Tiger actually wins a big one, we can then say he's back. And while getting five Majors to beat Jack's record seems unlikely, if not downright impossible, perhaps it would be only fitting that a player as great as Tiger has been have an '86 moment like Jack did.
Whatever happens, I'm sure that any victories he might earn from now until the end of his career will surely feel that much sweeter for Tiger--like the icing on the cake.