TAMPA, Fla. – The great ones don’t have to be seen to be felt.
After sending the Valspar PGA Championship into a frenzy over his announcement that he would be competing, Tiger Woods reminded the sporting world that, despite everything, he is on the short list of athletes who have reached that level of greatness.
“Everyone’s talking about it,” said Dave Barry, one of the 1,400 volunteers who works behind the scenes at the Valspar Championship. “It’s one of the first questions everyone asks; ‘When is Tiger going to be here?’”
Even before confirming that he would compete, the mere possibility of a Tiger sighting changed the event’s dynamic.
“We had meetings the week leading up to it just to be ready,” Kathy Lock, a second-year volunteer, said. “It’s the biggest difference since last year.”
But his presence went beyond questions and meetings.
Woods hats dotted every crowd. High schoolers skipped class for the chance at seeing their icon. Rumors about when and where Tiger might appear spread as rumors do – quickly and without care for the truth.
And for good reason.
Since taking over the PGA scene in August of 1996, Woods has been one of the most iconic and polarizing athletes across all sports. His highs flirted with the sun, his lows touched the ocean floor. But through it all, fans of Woods haven’t lost appreciation for his mastery of the craft.
“They (Jordan Speith and Tiger Woods) do it a hell of a lot better than we do it,” Barry said, of his longtime Tiger fandom. “It’s not just how far they hit it, it’s how straight they hit it. The ball moves three yards this way or three yards that way.”
It is a testament to the rarified greatness Woods achieved that even after 22 years in the public eye, an infidelity scandal, and a 2017 arrest, that his performances can still be seen and adored without being skewed by the lens of his troubles.
“Tiger just always moves the needle, whether he’s playing well or not,” said
Sally Clarke Fox, Nike marketplace manager for South Florida.
There’s a gravity that comes with that kind of greatness, one that can’t be seen but that fans are always bound to.
Whether he walks away a champion when the Valspar Championship ends on March 11 or not, Tiger’s impact will live on with the assuredness of a Florida sunrise.