By Phil Bausk

14 Major wins, over 100 professional tournament victories, hundreds of millions of dollars in endorsements,and the most talked about athlete in sports worldwide.

There is only one athlete whose name resonates with these achievements, and that is none other than Kevin Willis….

Now you may be thinking, “Aren’t those the accolades of that interracial golfer? That Tiger fella?” And you’re right, in fact, I am pretty sure Kevin Willis wouldn’t be allowed on most golf courses (Not a race thing, he’s just really loud and obnoxious).

Even after his worst professional, and perhaps personal, year, Tiger Woods is still one of the most watched, loved, and apparently horniest athletes in the world today. He went through the 2010 PGA season without a single victory. He was coming off of major knee surgery, and dealing with the media circus surrounding his infidelities around his wife, Elin Nordegren, and whether or not she used Tiger’s 9 Iron to help him nail the dog leg left that put his car in the center of a tree trunk.

So after such a troubled 2010, how does Tiger bounce back? Does he start dating the safe girlfriend type? Do we see him on the cover of US magazine with a girl he met at Whole Foods who shared the same interest as him in organic protein shakes? Or does he go the other route? Do we see him partying it up with Ben Roethlisberger at the nearest college campus, and saying how his addiction is too much for him to handle?

While we are some time away from seeing reports like that, and if Tiger has his way, we will never see any reports of the sort, there is one thing Tiger isn’t able to keep from the public, his golf game. This weekend is the start of the 2011 PGA season, and Tiger takes his talents to La Jolla, CA, for the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.

There is a cavalcade of reporters watching Tiger this weekend to see if he has regained his form from previous seasons. They are going to take such a detailed look at his swing that they will be able to tell you if he has a zipper fly or the new button fly that has become quite trendy. (Sidenote: How can anyone wear jeans or pants with a button fly? If you are out on a Saturday night, and you’ve drank so much that you may go home with Rosemary from Shallow Hal, how in the heck are you supposed to undo a button when you need to take a 90 second long piss? It’s hard enough zipping down the fly, reaching through the boxer brief opening, and pulling Captain Planet out to put out the fires of chaos with your urine of justice. A button protecting him isn’t going to make things any more efficient. Also, I call my buddy Captain Planet because he needs many different factors and materials to be at full strength, much like the Captain did.)

Either way, Tiger will be thrilled to see so many reporters talking about his game, rather than his game off the course. As the year goes on, reporters will bother him less with questions about his personal life, but more so about why he loves playing with Rocco Mediate, or how come it took him 3 whole months to pass Lee Westwood as the world’s number one golfer.

In a sports that lacks the sexiness that basketball, football, and even baseball have attained over the past years, golf needs Tiger Woods to excel. Not just for the sport’s popularity, but also to help elevate the play of Tiger’s top competitors. Last year, a new crop of players emerged to challenge the Woods and the Mickelsons of the tour, and showed that they are no longer afraid of the big name players. However, while ratings will be better if Woods and Mickelson are playing for a championship on a Sunday, the level of play will rise as the older generation tries to stave off the younger golfers. This creates a very interesting subplot that could group Tiger with his fellow veterans, instead of singling him out like he usually is.

Tiger has been in the spotlight for over a decade, and as I am sure part of him enjoys some aspects of that, he is competitor more than anything else. He isn’t the “diva” type and you won’t see him sitting next to Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson (Yes, its back to Johnson) on a new VH1 show. Tiger just wants to win. He wants to beat Jack Nicklaus’ record, he wants to set unbreakable records of his own, and he wants to play golf as the level he expects himself to play day in and day out. I am sure part of Tiger wants to rejoin the PGA veteran community, and hot have his on-course or off-course “abilities” exclude him from that group again.

But maybe this is a special case. Maybe Tiger is such a polarizing figure that in order to be as successful as he can, he needs to be isolated from the rest of his peers. Maybe some of his fellow golfers aren’t ready to accept him back, as many of them are family men of their own who look down heavily on what Tiger did in the past year. Is it reasonable to expect a lot of golfers to dislike Tiger for what he has done? Yes, and it’s just as possible that Tiger is in his own PGA purgatory. His limbo may be between the youngsters and the veterans, in a world where he has to get the sport back to  where it was a few years ago, without anyone else helping him, except for whoever his swing coach is nowadays.

So we are back to where we are at the start of Tiger’s career. Here is a guy who is the face of the sport, whether its his shiny grin that only Dave Chappelle can imitate, or his blank, depressing stare that sent a chill down viewers’ spines during his televised public apology, who needs to play well this season for so many reasons: To gain the respect of his peers, to get America, and maybe the world, back into golf, and for everyone to forget about his appetite for sex. He needs 2011 to help him get back on track, not just as a golfer, but as a person.

Those 14 Major victories, over 100 professional tournament victories, hundreds of millions of dollars in endorsements aren’t going to help him much now (well, maybe the money will).


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