Thursday 18 April 2019

Roy Curtis: 'Tiger Woods reached that part of us where our deepest, most primal feelings reside'

Tiger Woods with the Masters Trophy during the Green Jacket Ceremony. Photo: Getty
Tiger Woods with the Masters Trophy during the Green Jacket Ceremony. Photo: Getty

Roy Curtis

THE emotion was so uranium-enriched, The Tiger's Garden of Eden so drenched in tears, the wonder was that old Rae's Creek didn't swell up and burst its banks.

Like life-affirming birdsong, redemption chirped and hummed and palpitated across the Georgian sky.

It hardly matters whether Sunday's afternoon of giddy heart-soar was the greatest, the tenth greatest or even the hundredth greatest sporting story ever told.

What counts, what will endure, is the elemental beauty, the gorgeous drama that can unspool only when an athlete makes the deepest connection with his audience.

As Tiger Woods did in kindling and igniting the most unforgettable fire.

Yes, the back catalogue of his life is littered with scandal and mortifying shame.  It is undeniable that his shocking selfishness and overbearing sense of entitlement grievously wounded those closest to him. 

But, understanding, that in the shadowlands of our past, most of us have episodes we would rather entomb, recognising that humanity would implode if we didn't dole out second, third and fourth chances, the world was with Tiger as, against all the odds, he turned back time.

From the Ground Zero of two years ago, when this once almighty gladiator of golf's manicured coliseums was reduced to crawling on hands and knees from bed to bathroom, here was Woods constructing a second skyscraping chapter.

At 43, 11 years since the most recent of his 14 majors, 14 years since he last planted his flag on the Augusta mountaintop, here he was again conquering the world.

And doing so, not as the cold, remorseless machine of old, but as a vulnerable, fallible, warts and all, flesh and blood human.

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Tiger's not giving up when the odds were so brutally stacked against him – physically, mentally, emotionally – is at the kernel of why Masters Sunday touched so many of us.  It explains why a near billionaire hitting a dimpled ball, 1.68-inch in diameter, around America's most self-satisfied piece of real estate placed the watching world in an ecstatic chokehold.

Here was a defiant prizefighter reaching down to his very marrow, summoning unfathomable courage and grit, climbing off the canvass and, despite shipping so many savage blows both from his own hands and the fists of fate, saying he would not be beaten.

The Tiger's comeback, his miraculous escape from the penitentiary of his past, is, on a human level, inspiring.

Jamie Wall, the one-time Cork footballer and hurler who hasn't allowed legs that no longer obey his brain to dictate his story, put it lyrically in a singsong Sunday evening tweet.

"I don't care that's he's a bollocks.  I don't care that he's a hoor. All that matters to me is a man faced down rock bottom, and climbed his way back to the top.  Fuck me.  If that can't resonate with you in some walk of your own life, good luck to you, but to me…"

Jamie's unvarnished empathy spoke for so many of us.

Because Tiger reached that part of us where our deepest, most primal feelings reside.  For all his weaknesses and blemishes – or, maybe, because of them – he persuaded us to place our cynicism and doubt into palliative care.

And to just go with him, to invest our soul in his straining for the stars, for a kind of atonement; to allow his journey become ours; to piggyback on a voyage of reawakening.

Lord, it was magical.

A damburst of endorphins, a surging, adrenalized white-water ride through the afternoon, the thunderous symbol-crash of heart against ribs.  And the most acutely gratifying sense of feeling truly, totally alive.

Tiger turned back so many clocks, peddled the illusion (but, what a tantalising illusion) that we can, in fact, slay time.

Watching, totally engaged in the epic race Woods, a crimson-robed chariot of fire, was running, was to be reminded of a lovely line from the author Tom Giaquinto:  "Sometimes you just have to jump in a mud puddle because it is there.  Never get so old that you forget about having fun."

I don't know about you, but, for a little while on Sunday, as I rolled in the dirt, I experienced a priceless, childish glee.

One of my very favourite quotes is 92 years old.  It describes America's reaction when Charles Lindbergh, just 25 years of age, piloted his Spirit of St Louis across the Atlantic's vast-deep, the first successful solo flight across that endless stretch of forbidding ocean.

"For a little while the aspect of the world and all its people had magnificently altered.  We came out of slumps and slouches.  There was more brotherhood in being…"

And that's how it felt on Sunday.

For just a while, all the fretting and raging about Brexit, or what Trump might do next, about hospital cost overruns or housing shortages or the FAI, faded into the background.

Tiger Woods, a stew of human imperfections, but, magnificently tenacious and stirring, reached out and grabbed his second chance.

And his primal scream as he reached the finish line, as his clenched fists pummeled the Southern air, as his smile sun-dappled the world, as he opened the usually sealed book of himself like never before, revealed to us what the view is like at the rainbow's end.

It is even more beautiful than we might have dared to imagine. 

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