If you felt the earth move a bit at some point around 10:30 Pacific time on Sunday morning, don't be alarmed. It was nothing more than the Earth returning to its axis as Tiger Woods won the British Open, reminding those who might've forgotten that the drunks in the gallery have had it right all along: Tiger is DA MAN.
Aside from the fact that he spent four days distancing himself from the best golfers in the world, Tiger's week at Liverpool lacked the devastating dominance of Augusta in '97 or Pebble Beach in 2000, but his metronomic efficiency was perhaps even more impressive, as he led the tournament over the final fifty-four holes and calmly responded to challenges over the weekend from Sergio García and Chris DiMarco.
Sunday's win gave Tiger his third Claret Jug, his eleventh career major (or fourteenth, depending on how you count), and a giant payday. More than that, it sent the press into a tizzy, seeking adjectives to describe the brilliance as if it were a new development.
It was only a few months ago, afterall, that the mainstream media was busy annointing Phil Mickelson as the next in a long line of rivals, with some even suggesting that Lefty's second green jacket had actually pushed him beyond Tiger. And then came the U.S. Open, when only a recurring character flaw kept Mickelson from winning his third straight major and vaulting himself if not into Tiger's orbit, then at least into his galaxy.
What is truly amazing is how reluctant the press is to admit what should be obvious by now. While this might not exactly be like a young prophet changing water into wine, I think we can probably agree that it compares readily to a portly fellow with spindly legs. Quite simply, we are watching Babe Ruth in his prime.
For a decade now the search has been on for a rival to Woods, someone who will both push him to greater heights as well as provide an interesting story line for fans to follow. David Duval, Ernie Els, Sergio García, Vijay Singh, Reteif Goosen, and Mickelson have all played the role at one time or another, but Tiger's only true competitors within the sport have names like Hogan, Jones, and Nicklaus.
In fact, it's probably time to look beyond the borders of golf to find peers who can begin to compare to Tiger's brilliance and longevity. (Though it might seem odd to discuss longevity in connection with a thirty-year-old athlete, it fits when that athlete burst onto the public stage a decade ago.)
The only contemporary athletes in Tiger's realm are Lance Armstrong, Jerry Rice, Michael Jordan, Roger Clemens, and, perhaps, Alex Rodríguez. Each of those men -- especially Rice and Jordan -- established themselves as the best in their sport and maintained a level of dominance for a prolonged period of time. What's suprizing, though, is that probably only Rice can claim to have been the best of his sport for as long a period as Tiger has.
I've long thought that we won't see the true greatness of Tiger Woods until he eases into his forties and continues winning golf tournaments with diminished physical skills. Every time I see a replay of Jack Nicklaus's improbable win at Augusta at age forty-six I look forward to seeing what type of golfer Tiger will be at that age. I've no doubt that he'll still be one of the best in the world, still buring to win, still focusing on majors, still comparing himself to Jack. (Incidentally, I'm apparently not alone in this -- on Sunday night's post-match coverage, analyst Brian Hewitt predicted that Tiger would win a major after his fiftieth birthday.)
So perhaps now we can put this discussion to rest and agree that Tiger has no peers within the ropes. He is a once-in-a-generation athlete following the legacy of Babe Ruth, Jim Brown, and Muhammad Ali, and it doesn't make sense to evaluate his place in history at a time when his work might only be half done.