Tiger Mania

Friday March 9th, 2007

It's all Tiger all the time this week, just as it is any time he tees it up, but there is a little more mania in the air at Torrey Pines.

Woods roars into today's first round at the Buick Invitational with his PGA Tour winning streak still intact and coming off an eventful offseason in which he gave birth to a course design firm and announced he had knocked up the Mrs.

This week also marks his debut on the GolfChannel since it was reinvented as the exclusive cable platform of the PGA Tour. If you think the self-styled home of golf is prone to excess, wait till it has Woods to build the programming around.

Remember that old Dennis Leary riff on MTV about Cindy Crawford? I can already hear Rich Lerner saying the same things about Tiger: "I want to know what he's doing, what he's wearing, what he smells like. I want long, drawn-out slow motion shots of Tiger eating Eskimo Pies naked on the roof of the Empire State Building ..." Or something like that.

One of the challenges of covering Woods for the past decade, as I have, is that all of the superlatives were used up years ago. My editor suggested that for this column I compile a list of five reasons why Tiger may be on the verge of the greatest season in golf history. Only one reason needs to be cited: He is Tiger Woods. Anything is possible with this guy.

It's been a long four months since Woods' last appearance on the PGA Tour. Thank Hogan he's back. The real golf begins today, and I'm looking forward to it.

Lay off Lefty

Last week's column on Phil Mickelson touched off an avalanche of reader mail, and apparently my gentle jabs at the great man left many of you with your knickers in a twist.

A missive from Jason in New York was representative of the general vibe in my inbox, as he addressed me as "dumbass" and went on to write, "It's people like you who give journalism a bad name. Making fun of someone's weight over and over in order to hide your insecurities is pathetic. You are making fun of Phil like I made fun of my older brother ... when I was 6. As the saying goes: 'Phil may be fat, but you are ugly, and he can lose the weight.'"

David Till of Colorado Springs, Colo., continued the personal attacks, writing (hilariously), "How's that unibrow thing goin' for ya, Alan?"

Settle down, people. I like Phil. Well, I like writing about him anyway. I've done four SI cover stories on the guy and expect to do a handful more in the years to come. I don't linger on his physique to be cruel. Well, that's not the only reason.

Mickelson's poor physical conditioning affects his performance, which he was candid about in his press conference last week. It's not a coincidence that Phil wears down every summer, or that in two of the last three U.S. Opens he has had disasters on the closing holes, or that he has performed abysmally at recent Ryder and Presidents Cups, during which he has sometimes been compelled to play 36 holes in a day.

Fatigue is undeniably a factor in all of these letdowns. A golfer's fitness is a measure of his commitment. You look at physical specimens like Tiger and Vijay and it's obvious they are doing everything they can to maximize their talent. Pointing out that in the last few years Phil has needed a manssierre is a legitimate indictment of his lethargy.

On the other hand, sniping about out the physical flaws of a sportswriter is just mean. My uni-brow has no effect on my job performance, except, perhaps, when it gets so bushy I can't see the keyboard.

Senior writer Alan Shipnuck has covered golf for Sports Illustrated since 1994 and frequently contributes to SI.com.

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