A few things I care about . . .
■ With every passing night of hockey, the Bruins move closer to a championship. If the Black and Gold can earn the final five victories necessary for a Stanley Cup and drape themselves in the gold already glittering around those Red Socks and Red-White-and-Blue Patriots, local fans will celebrate in some rare air.
As the rest of the sporting nation gags, Boston will hold three of the four major sports championships simultaneously. The Celtics are the odd men out, an ignominious playoff flameout killing Boston’s grand slam dream.
But there is another sporting grand slam still very much alive, and the quest for the second leg begins Thursday morning in New York.
Tiger Woods, reigning Masters champion, will hit the tee box at the PGA Championship at 8:24 a.m., his first tournament since resurrecting himself from the golfing grave last month at Augusta. And while it’s unlikely that the 43-year-old will win all four majors this year, the fact that we can even dream about it is enough reason to turn our attention to golf, to root for the once-fallen hero to continue this amazing second chapter.
The evolution of Woods is compelling because of what it represents about the reasons we love sports so deeply. His is a comeback story for the ages, born not simply of debilitating injury (though a surgically repaired back certainly makes it that) but also of hubris, of Woods’s precipitous fall from grace as one of the world’s most admired athletes to one of its most ridiculed after a series of personal embarrassments from infidelity to public inebriation.
But for any of us to be invested in a comeback, we have to have been invested in the original story, and in that regard, Tiger was peerless. His immediate dominance in golf, his single-minded focus on being the best in the game, his open pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’s all-time major record, and his disdain for anyone who dared get in his way, well, that’s the stuff that made him a can’t-miss phenomenon.
That was the stuff that was resurrected across four magical days in Augusta, when Woods showed a whole new generation of golf watchers— including his own children, who witnessed him winning a major for the first time — what the game is like when he’s on top.
It’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen.
This year’s Masters was the 11th one I’ve covered, but the first one won by Woods. I saw everyman Phil Mickelson win all three of his green jackets, watched young buck Jordan Spieth win one (and nearly two others). I witnessed the Australian breakthrough of Adam Scott and watched Patrick Reed bring the jacket back to US shores after a four-year overseas voyage. I saw the unlikely two-time glory of Bubba Watson and the even-unlikelier victories of Danny Willett and Charl Schwartzel.
But what I saw on the Sunday of Tiger’s win dwarfed them all. The scope of his influence was impossible to ignore, rivaling any of the most compelling scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Be it one unbelievable Patriots Super Bowl loss (to the Giants) or one remarkable Patriots Super Bowl win (over the Falcons), one historic Red Sox baseball comeback (against the Yankees) or two unforgettable Olympic gold medal moments (a women’s ice hockey shootout and a men’s curling team gold), the emotion surrounding Woods’s second-act breakthrough was more visceral, more intense, and more contagious than any of it.
“I’m not going to say it was just like old times, no. It was very different,” Woods told reporters this week at Bethpage Black, site of the PGA. “I hadn’t won in a long time there. I’ve been in contention numerous times to have gotten it done, but I haven’t. And just the way it played out, I mean, it was so different as a whole.”
Trying to cover it was different, too. Watching the Masters is different than any other tournament to begin with, what with the ban on cell phones and the lack of technology anywhere on the grounds. Walking the course is like entering a time warp, with the only updates on how the tournament is going arriving via manually-adjusted wooden scoreboards.
When I committed to walking Sunday’s back nine with Tiger, I knew it would be tough to see everything (I only knew how great his tee shot on 16 was thanks to the roar that erupted from below where I stood between the 15th and 17th fairways), but I also felt it was the best way to understand his appeal.
I was right, though making my way back toward his eventual winning putt was almost impossible, with crowds thicker and more focused than any I’d ever seen. With no chance of getting near the 18th green, I headed toward the clubhouse, only to find the pathway for Woods’s exit from the green already roped off by security, ropes that usually go up just as the golfers walk by. Woods hadn’t even yet hit a shot on 18.
With all of that mind, I will be watching the PGA for sure, to see if Woods make another run at a grand slam, one that would top even his own Tiger Slam.
Woods held all four major titles concurrently, winning the final three majors in 2000 and the Masters in 2001, but now he has a shot at doing it all in the same calendar year. He also needs three more majors to tie Nicklaus’s mark — why not do it all at once?
■ Can’t fault John Beilein one iota for bolting Michigan for the NBA’s Cavaliers. Any honest college coach will tell you they dream of working in a league that pays more and doesn’t involve recruiting. It’s one step away from retirement. But his departure is a definitely loss for the college game, which is desperate for leaders with his integrity . . .
■ . . . because we sure can’t rely on the NCAA to provide solid leadership, even if it reportedly is softening somewhat on the notion of allowing athletes to be compensated for their names and likenesses. Though the idea is only in the exploring stage, and in their words is in no way to be viewed as paying players, it’s hard to imagine there’s no room in the billion-dollar industry for college players to earn money for autographs or appearances.
■ Still crickets from the NFL offices on the status of Tyreek Hill, currently on hold with the Chiefs while authorities investigate abuse involving his child. As usual, Roger Goodell & Co. will be reactive instead of proactive, and just sit and wait while they hope we all forget about their worst issues.
■ While I polish off my latest Steve Berry novel (“The Malta Exchange”), next on my list is “Chumps to Champs, How the Worst teams in Yankees History Led to the ’90s Dynasty,” by the great New York Times reporter Bill Pennington.
Red Sox fans may wish otherwise, but the revival of the Yankees allowed for the revival of the best hatred in sports as well, and Pennington has some great Sox-Yanks anecdotes, including a favorite on how Don Mattingly had to be talked into bringing Wade Boggs onto the team.
■ Color me intrigued by Bruce Arena’s arrival to the Revolution. Does he have any alchemy left in those soccer fingers, or will he just be another chapter of ineptitude for the floundering MLS franchise?
■ On a personal note, tough news out of my alma mater this week when the fully incorporated, student-run newspaper The Daily Targum revealed it had failed in its efforts to continue getting funding from student fees, its referendum vote falling short because not enough of the student body voted.
When I was a history major at Rutgers, it was The Targum that gave me my journalism start, and being independent from the university was the root of the pride we took in our jobs and felt in our work.
To list all of the great Targum alums in the industry would fill this column, but here’s hoping support from all of us can help get this right.