Golf holds its own as Tiger searches for redemption

Going into the PGA Championship weekend, Tiger Woods was on everyone’s mind. Sportswriters were prepping their headlines for Monday morning “Tiger’s Back!” or “Tiger Pounces!” but Tiger Woods didn’t play up the standards that we’ve all come to expect, we’ve come to expect pure and utter domination from Woods on the course.

Instead, the biggest story of the weekend, and rightfully so, isn’t the play of Tiger Woods. It is the obscure rule that cost American Dustin Johnson 2 strokes and a chance at a playoff with the eventual winner Martin Kaymar. Even without the controversial finish, the play of golf’s young guns gave sports fans enough to talk about that Tiger Woods wasn’t the story Monday morning.

Tiger Woods ended the weekend at -2 under par tied for 28th. It’s not a bad result considering the factors involved; Tiger hasn’t had the time to dedicate to practice, he is playing without a swing coach and in case you haven’t heard, he’s had a little trouble with infidelity and his wife is going to take $750 million and his kids as a result.

It’s been 9 months since that fateful night in Orlando and the first six months, the focus of the media coverage was on the destruction of the image of Tiger Woods but the past three months the media has been looking for any sign of the old dominant Tiger coming back. After Tiger finished fourth at the Masters, we’ve been looking for a breakthrough, a sign that Tiger is back.

I think it’s the North American way, the media and the people will destroy its heroes at the first sign of danger. However, more importantly, the people and the media will look to rebuild a fallen star because there is no better story than redemption. Think about the renaissance Mike Tyson is going through right now, 5 years ago he was getting beat by journeymen and now he’s appearing in movies and guess spotting on late night television shows. If a star can fight through adversity and reach the pantheon of their sport, that’s a story we all want to believe in because I think deep down, we all want to find redemption in our own lives.

Sports bettors are still backing Tiger Woods; I talked to our good friend Richard Gardner of the Bodog Sportsbook and he said the handle of the PGA Championship is as good as ever for a tournament that had Tiger playing. I asked him if sports bettors are still betting on Tiger Woods and he answered, “This weekend Tiger went off at 11-1 to win the USPGA Championship and we took 20% of the action on him to win it all.” Is that any different from when Tiger was on top of his game, “When Tiger was at the Top of his game we would see around 50% of bets on Tiger Woods.”

That 50% number is huge when you consider that the books were setting the odds for Tiger at 5/6 against a field of 150 other golfers. You could have gotten better odds picking an NFL spread than the -140 on Tiger in his prime.

I was surprised and impressed that 20% of people still put bets down on Tiger Woods this past weekend, Gardner explained, ““I think people enjoy watching Tiger do really well and playing really poorly at the same time, as if to say, how can the best golfer in history taken such a fall from grace? We see the same trend in the gambling world. Bettors are still backing Tiger because his odds have some value compared to the past and the rest of the field presents some good options to bet on since there is no dominant force right now on the Tour.”

That field that Gardner talked about is doing all right, in seven of the past eight major winners have been first time winners and the trend seems to indicate a changing of the guard in golf. No I’m not ready to write off Tiger Woods but the tour has enough young talent that can carry Golf until Tiger Woods earns another victory and beyond. Names like Rory McIlroy, Nick Watney, Hunter Mahan, Dustin Johnson, Anthony Kim and PGA Championship winner Martin Kaymar will be in the news Monday morning a lot in the coming years. That will be a good thing for golf and good thing for Tiger Woods as while he will be the focus of most tournaments; he won’t be the main focus as these young kids begin to show their chops.

I admit that I was ready with my own Tiger Woods headline if he won the PGA Championship, “Tiger Prowls through Whistling Straights Fouls” but watching Tiger as a middle of the pack golfer is something we’ll have to get used to as Tiger continues to look for redemption but until then Golf will be fine.