Why you should root for Tiger Woods now

Nine years ago almost to the day, Tiger Woods, unstoppable as the sunrise, relentless as the tide, rolled in a curling 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th at Torrey Pines to force a playoff. Woods, who would go on to win that U.S. Open, pumped his fist and exulted like he never had before … and, as it turned out, never would again.

You know what happened next. An injury cost Woods the rest of 2008. Y.E. Yang dented his armor on the course, running down Woods at the 2009 PGA Championship to yank what would have been Woods’ 15th major out of his hands. Three months later, Woods’ personal life exploded all over the Internet, tales of mistresses and text messages forever shattering his carefully honed, market-tested image. And while Woods would play, and win, again on the PGA Tour, he never could string together four good days at a major. His victories declined as his injuries mounted.

And then came Memorial Day. Another holiday, another police report. Snared by police for DWI, Woods’ mugshot rocketed around Twitter. Bleary, exhausted, bloated, medicated … this Woods was so far from the Tiger reveling on the green at Torrey Pines that it might as well have been a different person.

Monday evening, Woods revealed that he’s undergoing treatment for the medications that had rendered him unconscious by the side of a Florida road. “I’m currently receiving professional help to manage my medications and the ways that I deal with back pain and a sleep disorder,” Woods wrote. This is good news, the first bit of truly good news we’ve heard from Woods in 2017.

It’s a different world now in golf, far removed from the days when Woods gathered up trophies by the armload. So far that it’s worth remembering a few facts:

• Sunday, Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open, and took home a prize of $2.16 million. The entire purse of the 1995 U.S. Open was $2 million. Woods turned pro in 1996. These facts are not unconnected.

• Two days before Koepka’s win, Rory McIlroy boasted of earning $200 million in his career. McIlroy was born in 1989. Woods began winning majors in 1997. Again, these facts are not unconnected.

• Woods hasn’t played in a major in more than two years. He hasn’t finished in a major’s top 5 in more than four. And Fox Sports, which spent more than a billion dollars to broadcast the U.S. Open for a dozen years, just recorded the second-lowest ratings ever for an Open. These facts … well, you see where we’re going here.

Everyone owes Woods a debt of gratitude — the players, the PGA Tour, every tournament from here to Dubai, the media, sponsors, fans, you, me — everyone. And that makes the Woods saga less a story about golf, and more a story about the downward trajectory of a sport-altering icon. You know the tired old line about journalists not rooting for a player, but rooting for a story? Tiger Woods facing down his self-inflicted demons would be one hell of a story, far better than hoisting a trophy he’s already won five times over.

Let’s be honest: this isn’t about Woods winning another green jacket. At this point, you’ve got a better chance of outdriving Koepka than Woods does of winning another major. Even making the cut at the Anonymous Midwest Insurance Firm Classic would now rank as a career milestone. (Woods placing 4th at the Masters in 2010, just months after the scandal, still ranks as his most underrated monumental achievement.)

Golf’s no longer the issue here for Woods. A healthy life, free from concerns about painkillers, is. So here’s hoping Woods gets the help he needs and gets back to the life he wants — whether it’s playing Augusta or playing putt-putt with his kids.

Good luck, Tiger. At long last, it seems like you need it.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.