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By HUBERT MIZELL
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 5, 2001
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- This isn't a survey. It's just me listening, trying to evaluate, as Tiger Woods keeps accelerating, stalking Jack Nicklaus' lifetime feats, supplanting Michael Jordan as the world's hottest athlete.
Even as Tiger is abundantly hurrahed, all but canonized by golf commentators, his skills near universally appreciated as he amasses major championships and royal wealth, many still would enjoy seeing more sputters from the 25-year-old phenomenon.
Their motives vary.
As Tiger ruled three U.S. Amateurs, roars for him became deafening. Since turning pro, the ethnically diverse Stanford man has won five majors, 21 tournaments more on the PGA Tour, collected all four Grand Slam trophies while public emotions were encompassing a troubling element.
Think about it. Recall what you've heard. Maybe the whispering of a degrading joke. Or some even nastier social cutdown. Few jocks approach 100 percent approval, but quite audible feelings on Woods can be sharply evident.
Know what I mean?
Today he begins work in search of a second Masters conquest, and more astonishingly, the holding all at once of golf's four mightiest prizes, including hauls from the most recent U.S. Open, PGA Championship and British Open.
As he muscles around Augusta National, approval will seem near unanimous, birdie-eagle delights echoing through the towering pines. But on a larger stage, the planet, it's my guess that maybe 30 percent of Masters observers will pull hard for Woods to not become Sunday's hero.
Am I high? Low?
No law against it. We enjoy a free country. First Amendment rights so appropriate. Non-rooting for Tiger Woods is hardly sacrilege.
If an anti-Tiger motive is, "I'd like to see more guys sharing major championships," well, that's cool. Honorable. Nothing wrong with screaming more loudly for Fred Couples, Ernie Els or Vijay Singh.
If the sizzling contenders down Augusta's fabled stretch are to be Rocco Mediate, Mike Weir and Woods, why not pull for an underdog? Good stuff if Rock or the Canadian puts on a green jacket.
But "anybody but Tiger" attitudes do odiously reek. I hear folks, even friends, complain that Woods is too arrogant about his talents, too apt to erupt with raging fire (for golf) when shots fall shy of his goals.
Hey, free country ...
I've been watching Woods, asking him questions, evaluating, for a half-dozen years. At times I've disliked his actions but reminded myself, "He's still a kid." In 2001, Tiger has aged beyond that stage.
Maturity becomes him. If he were my son, dealing with all the challenges and demands and reactions of being such a wondrous Tiger, there would be heavy fatherly pride. Even if Woods could use some eye-contact lessons from Arnold Palmer.
Tiger is so gifted, bright, attractive, entertaining and youthful. A package, while not flawless, I see as amazing and admirable. Tiger works hard to do it well; also to do it right.
In an era when sports creatures are less apt than ever to embrace and appreciate histories and legends of their games, Tiger has ample interest and knowledge.
Woods needs no obnoxious showoff jewelry, manipulated hair, drug habits, guns, knives or outrageous tattoos to proclaim, "Look, I'm special and different." Public preferences for Els, Davis Love, David Duval or Phil Mickelson need not include bad-wish loathings of Tiger.
I'm guessing there always will be anti-Tiger sentiments, for whatever chosen reasons. Much of it will be understandable, but some will disturb. Cheering the underdog is American tradition. We love seeing David crash Goliath's party. Thousands surely yearn for stumbles by Duke's college basketball kings. There's some of that with Tiger.
But, too, some overtones.
You wonder if Love or Mickelson had Tiger's record of recent years, might gallery embracings be deeper, more total, than they are for Woods?
Let's not kid ourselves.
Woods' life dazzles with riches, his ears ring with cheers, major silverware crowds his shelves, with deeper appreciation now coming from those who know Tiger best, his fellow pros.
When media bellowing about a so-called Woods slump reached a shouting apex, before he won at Bay Hill and then the Players Championship, there came savvy words from a veteran who grits and grinds to combat Woods.
"Be careful how you handle this," Hal Sutton told reporters, "because you might make him hate the game. We need Tiger Woods."
But some can clearly do without him.
Free world, right?