Wednesday, February 25, 2009

by the tail

There’s always a lot of bantering about the Sports Illustrated athlete of the year. The result, Michael Phelps, was announced months ago but today’s events merely highlighted a name someone threw out during that discussion so long ago: Tiger Woods. I don’t watch much golf anymore, nor do I play, but I will still tune in online to follow Tiger and the Majors. The idea that Tiger was athlete of the year in 2009 – particularly when Phelps won eight Olympic golds – seemed strange until you put his six months in perspective. First, dude won the U.S. Open with a torn ACL (MCL?) and a broken leg. He walked all five rounds (it went to a one-round playoff on Monday) and applied an unimaginable amount of torque to a busted up leg and still managed to beat the world’s best golfers in golf’s toughest test. Second, when he announced that he’d miss the rest of the season and undergo surgery, the PGA Tour basically became non-existent. I don’t have the numbers for TV viewership or tournament attendance but they were no doubt devastated. In fact, I’d venture to say that no sport, at least in America and probably globally, is so wholly dependent on one athlete. Don’t get me wrong, Phelps was amazing, but if you removed him from swimming (and he’ll be retired soon enough) the Olympics would have gone on without missing him, globally, in the slightest. Tiger was back in competition today, eight months after departing, and won his opening match play challenge. All eyes will once again be focused on August the first full weekend in April. If he wins the Masters this year then we can simply remove him from any athlete of the year competition: he’ll have moved beyond comparison to mere mortals.

There's your sport for the week.

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