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Commentary Bob Lutz: Like him or not, Tiger Woods makes golf more watchable

  • Published Wednesday, April 9, 2014, at 9 p.m.

I used to like Tiger Woods, but now I don’t.

You know why.

But I’m not looking forward to the Masters, which starts Thursday at Augusta National, the way I normally do. And it’s because Woods is out with after back surgery, which could keep him on the sidelines for a couple more months.

Woods hasn’t won a major tournament since 2008, when he won the U.S. Open just a few months before his life went off the deep end.

I was a huge Woods fan in 2008. Then I wasn’t. It was that quick that my feelings changed and I haven’t been able to go back.

Yet almost six years since Woods won a major tournament – and he remains stuck on 14 majors, four behind Jack Nicklaus – he is still the most compelling player in the sport.

Woods hasn’t been Woods for a long time, but no one else has, either. Just when it looks like a young gun is ready to take over (Rory McIlroy, I’m talking about you), he slinks back to the pack.

Nobody has come close to dominating the way Woods dominated with seven majors wins from 1999-2002 and five more from 2005-08.

Even Phil Mickelson, who is in the Masters field and will be trying to win his fourth green jacket, seems to be looking forlornly at Woods’ absence from the Masters field.

“Look at what he’s doing for the game the last 17 years he’s played as a professional. It’s been incredible,” Mickelson said. “I’ve told him, and I’ve said this before, nobody has benefited more from having Tiger in the game than myself.

“I remember when I was an amateur and I won my first tournament in Tucson in 1991, the entire purse was $1 million, first place was $180,000 and Steve [Loy, my agent] and I would sit down and say, ‘I wonder if in my lifetime, probably not in my career, we would play for a $1 million first-place check.’ [Now] it’s every week. It’s unbelievable the growth of this game.

“And Tiger has been the instigator. He’s been the one that’s really propelled and driven the bus because he’s brought increased ratings, increased sponsors, increased interest and we have all benefited, but nobody has benefited more than I have, and we’re all appreciative. That’s why we miss him so much; we all know what he’s meant to the game.”

When I read that, it’s difficult for me to continue in my disdain for Woods, who I have been able to categorize into two neat and tidy packages: one of the greatest golfers in history and a wretch of a human being. Never the twain shall meet.

But now I see Woods battling injuries and Father Time. He’s 38 and not the most powerful guy on the PGA Tour anymore. He won five tournaments last year, but it’s obvious he doesn’t instill the fear into the rest of the guys the way he used to.

He’s mortal as an athlete after proving beyond a shadow of a doubt his mortality as a man.

Woods may not be good for the tradition of marriage, but he is good for golf. The Masters will miss him. Heck, I’ll miss him. OK, I admit it. I want Woods to get better and return to golf. I just don’t want him to return to a Perkins restaurant.

Because I’m re-discovering my connection with Woods, I wanted to check on him and see how he’s doing since his March 31 surgery.

Believe ir or not, I couldn’t get through. But I was able to talk to Wichita neurosurgeon Dr. James Weimar, from the Kansas Spine and Specialty Hospital. He assures me Woods should be good to go in two or three months.

“The best I can tell, he had a disc herniation in his lumbar spine,” Weimar said. “It sounds like he’s been suffering with it for quite a while and trying to manage it conservatively.”

That obviously didn’t work, Weimar said. Surgery, then, became the next option. And the prognosis, especially for someone in Woods’ physical condition, looks good.

“The amount of tissue trauma to his body and spine should have been relatively minimal,” Weimar said. “Being the physical specimen he already is, there’s a good chance for a full recovery and this may not hurt his golf game at all. He’ll probably come back and not miss a beat and maybe even be better.”

Weimar, a former college football player, said golf isn’t necessarily his thing. Like me, he used to like Woods more than he does now.

“I may not agree with all of his personal choices,” Weimar said.

But Woods’ accomplishments in golf are undeniable. And it sounds like his back will recover.

I wonder about his brain.

Reach Bob Lutz at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @boblutz.

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