Tiger Woods shows signs of a true champion

July 21, 2002|by MARK KELLER

America likes its sports heroes to have a little humility.

Maybe that's why so many people have fallen in love with Tiger Woods.

A little cockiness is OK, and Woods can show that from time to time. Remember his putt in the PGA Championship two years ago, the one that he pointed at and followed into the hole?

Yes, a little over the top, but Tiger's game allows that every so often.

And that's why it was so refreshing to see Tiger raising his hands triumphantly on the 17th green at the British Open on Saturday.

What was refreshing was not the celebration. It was the context in which he was celebrating that made it great.

Fans have grown used to seeing Woods celebrating. He's won seven of the last 11 major tournaments, an unheard-of record of success.


But Saturday's celebration was different. Woods was simply celebrating a birdie putt, certainly not a rarity for him or any other professional golfer.

This, however, was Woods' first birdie of the day - his first and only birdie of the worst round of golf since turning pro in 1996.

Woods was 10 over par in Saturday's third round and was 11 strokes behind the leader, a day that would leave any golfer feeling terrible.

Woods, however, obliged the cheering British crowd by raising his arms and flashing the smile that helps to sell huge quantities of Nike gear and Buicks.

I try to root against Tiger Woods most weeks. I'm the type of person who likes to see "the other guy" win now and then.

I have the greatest respect for Woods, who without a doubt is the best player in the game and perhaps the best of all time. Still, when the national media pumps a guy up for such a long stretch of time, it's nice to see them fall short of the hype.

But Woods' celebration of a putt that will probably have no bearing on the outcome of today's final round shows that he hasn't bought into the hype.

He knows he's good. Heck, he knows he's the best. And he knows when he plays his best, he'll usually win.

That's the sign of a champion.

But many champions don't have the same savvy as Woods.

A few years ago, Rickey Henderson broke Lou Brock's major league baseball record for career stolen bases. After Henderson broke the mark, he pulled the base from the ground, held it above his head and proclaimed, "Today, I am the greatest."

Baseball fans bristled at Henderson's boast, which was looked at more as a put-down of Brock, one of the most beloved St. Louis Cardinals ever.

For Woods, there were no excuses for his disastrous round on Saturday, most of which was played in driving rains and bone-chilling winds.

"It just wasn't meant to be today," Woods said.

That's the sign of a true champion - and one it's growing increasingly hard to root against.

Mark Keller is sports editor for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, extension 2332, or by e-mail at

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