Fear and Loathing at Firethorn: Tiger Woods’ Long Road to Masters Redemption
As with everything else in the epic life of the most famous and decorated athlete of his generation, the “What if’s” for Tiger Woods are the size of his yacht. Bigger.
What if he could have stayed healthy?
What if he could have avoided four back surgeries and constant knee injuries requiring reconstruction?
What if he weren’t so imperiously driven to perfection as to revamp his deified golf swing down to the studs four times under four different swing coaches, despite already being the greatest golfer and shotmaking purist since Harry Vardon?
What if he hadn’t decided to fill his life and his phone with an array of female side action more sketchy than a Kid Rock tour bus and waste 11-years in the exiled wilderness of personal turmoil, bad press, family implosion and general decline? What if, indeed.
What if he hadn’t been born so transcendently gifted as to be able to shrug off that decade long laundry list of self-imposed obstacle and give the world another fist pumping Tiger-sized image of red polo redemption on a Master’s Sunday that made it seem as if nothing had ever changed, even if everything had?
Everything, and then some.
Twenty-two years after setting the golfing world, and all the rest of us on our ears by destroying the world’s assembled best in a way that made it seem as if no one else was even playing the same sport, Tiger Woods emerged from the trophy case of memories to grasp a moment of destiny as poignant and gilded as those already gifted to the ages.
Perfect bunker shots that found the hole to save birdie. Puts from the next solar system that teetered on the lip for minutes and wouldn’t have dropped except for applause that registered Richter-style. Fatherly hugs from Earl to Tiger to young Charlie to bookend a generational obsession of craft and the investment of practiced effort required of every genius as penance for their greatness.
And on Sunday, lofted iron shot, sliced purposefully, shaped perfectly through an afternoon breeze to stick like a lawn dart less than a foot from the hole with a deafening joy that suggested nothing the last eleven years even mattered. Or, had even happened at all.
The tabloid shame. The canceled contracts. The endless interviews with common gutter trash that lasted a lot longer than Andy Warhol’s 15-minute rule. A Viking princess’s driveway rage that proved she was pretty damn effective with Thor’s hammer, too, given provocation.
A failed marriage and divorce no different than the marital failures of millions of American families, except that they happened on the microscope slide of the most famous sportsman of his generation. A man too talented and rich to have his clay feet stripped of sponsored shoes and dragged through the mud with anything less than a Macy’s Day parade of national glare.
Because like his golf shots, even his grandest failings are worth millions of dollars as spectator sport and circus sideshow in a faustian bargain of bartered soul and internet eyeballs.
And all those brutal moments of struggle and lost art on the golf course, where it was painfully obvious to the world that the magic of genius had either taken leave forever, or was layered over too thickly with the pain of life and body to ever emerge again in the way we had watched it. And savored it. And known it for what it was.
Pure genius, given proper due.
It was in those desperate times of struggle when I wondered if what we were watching again was that all too common hallmark of virtuosity that afflicts so many of the true geniuses of the human record. A bent toward package deal self destruction and tortured psychology that makes it seem as if the weight of those with special gifts leaves them embarrassed of their own greatness, subconsciously crushed and searching for ways to escape what they were born to be, if only to ease the crushing volume that thrums constantly between their ears, driving them onward in the constant pelting milieu of expectation, burden of unfulfilled potential and the demons of self-knowledge that dance hand in hand with muse and serpent on the canyon’s edge of plunging madness.
A dance with the devil to kill “The Gift,” if only to be done with the insanity that accompanies it.
And so it is for Tiger, or Mozart, or Beethoven, or Shakespeare. Each time they brandish their trade, a world of spectators take their seats for mere moments, demanding with ticket stubs clenched, to witness captured lightning of the command performance of the symphony’s roar.
“Write me some history, right now. If you please.”
Reality for the genius is that the symphony is stuck on auto repeat. The volume never ceases, even after the audience leaves them in the darkened auditorium, alone in the underwater iron lung of inescapable crushing gifts and the devil’s bargains that turn innocent childhood joys of sunlit moment into the pressure cooker prostitution of trading God-given genetics into wealth and fame.
Fear and Loathing at Firethorn that only geniuses of any discipline ever understand. And couldn’t, even for all their mechanical brilliance of pantomime.
Rory is skill. Phil is skill. Vijay Singh and Dustin Johnson are skill.
With all due respect to the studied auteurs and steady emulators of the most competitive era in PGA history, (whose presence only amplify the magnitude of Tiger winning the cup every four times he picks up a club) they are craftsmen all, good and true, attached and in some cases inspired, by the comet’s tail of a once in lifetime transcendental practitioner of something that can never be quantified, explained or understood. Only observed and recognized.
On Sunday, at Augusta, looking fifteen years younger somehow, everywhere but his hairline, Tiger reminded once again in a grand catharsis of flourished gift, that for all the ink blots and ripped pages and times when author lost his thread, if not his mind, it is he and only he that is writing this story for the ages.
Human. Broken. Bloodied and humiliated. But still capable of finding a gear and a rarified precision beyond the grasp of mortals, plucked from the air like golden apples from the sun.
Proving, lest any of us ever forget, that his colleaugues are simply caretakers to the throne. Steward kings holding court to see whether 19 major championships is suddenly a fait d’accompli for a Tiger in red to catch a Golden Bear.
Because only Mozart is Mozart. The rest, on their very best days are Salieri. Waiting with bated kingdom breath, to see how many more masterpiece Sunday symphonies remain in Tiger’s tattered bag of magic tricks.
THE FINAL PUTT AND CELEBRATION: TIGER WOODS