Good or bad, still in Tiger’s corner

April 1997 was when I fell in love with golf. I was eight years old. Tiger Woods was 21 and obliterating Augusta National. He bombed his drives. He pumped his fist. He won by 12 shots.

It was absurd — as if Peyton Manning had shredded the 1985 Bears defense as a baby-faced rookie. Even Manning, arguably one of the greatest players to step under center, wasn’t an All-Pro until the 2003 season as a 27-year-old.

And here was a scrawny, barely-legal Tiger Woods humbling golfers twice his age on the sport’s greatest stage. To call it incredible would be like describing Augusta’s greens as challenging. Tiger has done the incredible at 13 other major championships in his career, and I’ve watched them all.

He won by 15 strokes at Pebble Beach in 2000 and by eight at St. Andrew’s a few weeks later. He fended off no-names such as Bob May and Rocco Mediate to capture two more trophies. He even held all four major championships at once.

By now, you know about the car crash and the affairs. You know about the harem of women and the sordid text messages. You know about the therapy and the comeback-in-progress. You know about the cryptic statements and the awkward speeches and the planned photographs, which have all but rendered Tiger’s 14-year career — and his 14 majors — irrelevant.

Yes, the last five months have been a mess.

All the while, I’ve been waiting for today — the day Woods returns to what he’s truly great at: being the world’s best golfer. After all, expectations of him being the world’s best person were gone 14 mistresses ago, but a fifth green jacket and Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors are still within reach.

I say this not to minimize what Tiger called a “personal disappointment.” You don’t need to be Mother Teresa to figure out Woods has a few issues, respecting the sanctity of marriage being one of them. And you don’t need to be a marriage counselor to understand the severity of those issues.

What he did to his wife and children can be described as idiotic, selfish or disgusting, depending on whom you’re talking to — the latter of which most certainly comes from the women in your life. I understand the resentment. My mother, five sisters and girlfriend want nothing more than for Woods to fail, and I can’t blame them.

They’ve followed his career in snippets and watched his triumphs in clips, but in the last five months, they became obsessed. They bought tabloids and read TMZ. They speculated about the car crash and the number of women he slept with. They wondered how he could cheat on his beautiful wife and how anyone could forgive him.

For a while, I was also consumed by the story, reading every rumor, dissecting every statement/speech and speculating on his return.

He’s finally back, and you’ll find me firmly entrenched in Tiger’s cheering section — a place I’ve been since he made Augusta National look like your municipal course.

It’s hard for me to forget his 71 PGA Tour wins, third all-time. It’s hard to forget him playing on a broken leg and a shredded knee to win the 2008 U.S. Open. And it’s hard to forget that 1997 Masters and all the exuberance he brought to golf.

Here’s to hoping that exuberance returns soon — maybe even as soon as Sunday.

Scott Miller, a junior at the University of Iowa and a contributor to the National Football Post, recently won second place in the Hearst Sports Writing Competition. Follow him on Twitter: @stmillr

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