Hearing about golf these past couple of years has turned into some sort of dual universe. On the one hand there is the real world, like: "Smith and Jones Tied for Lead in Cat Food Open."
But then, in more detail, the larger shadow story reads: "Tiger's Putter Falters, Trails By 12 Strokes."
Golf has become like fantasy football or Rotisserie Baseball. Only, imagine if everybody has the same guy — Tiger Woods — on his team. No other golfers seem to exist, except possibly The Ghost of Jack Nicklaus.
This is what I call "The Dreaded Mike Tyson Syndrome," which is what happened to boxing when Tyson couldn't win anymore but yet continued to dominate news of boxing.
Before Tiger, The Dreaded Mike Tyson Syndrome was most visible in IndyCar racing, when nobody cared about who was winning the races — only about where Danica Patrick was back in the pack.
By contrast, now, men's tennis is the ideal. All you hear about are the actual winners — Djokovic, Nadal and Federer — who not only win but are all distinct personalities. Perfect.
Golf first experienced The Dreaded Mike Tyson Syndrome years ago, when fans kept rooting for Arnold Palmer even though he couldn't win a major championship anymore. But while Arnie's Army kept up hope, Palmer had a genuine superstar replacement in Jack Nicklaus — so the loser couldn't continue to absolutely dominate the golf news the way Tiger does today, when no single younger challenger has assumed his stardom.
Of course, the other thing about Tiger vis-a-vis the beloved Palmer is that many fans don't care for Mr. Woods. So the sport's attention is not only diverted to an also-ran but also to someone who is unloved.
Now, as the Masters begins Thursday, Tiger is playing better than he has since the spectacular eruption of his personal life. With his tournament win two weeks ago, he has certainly rebounded to a point where I think we can upgrade him to be the male Maria Sharapova, who continues to get inordinate publicity without ever quite getting another Grand Slam victory.
In this context, it's worth noting that while Palmer took his last major at the age of 34, he won a very impressive 17 more PGA tournaments over the next nine years, teasing his fans and success, but never took another of the four big ones.
Yes, maybe Tiger can actually get back on top of the actual golf universe again. He's 36 now, and Nicklaus won four majors after he reached that age.
As long as Tiger doesn't win, though, but remains the focus of his sport, golf suffers. An individual sport thrives when its meal ticket is triumph and celebrity joined as one.