Tiger Woods is a Masters champion again, his impossible comeback complete. And the story we’re telling ourselves about his return to form this week says more about us than it does about him, Stephen Brunt told The Big Story podcast on Tuesday.
And it’s a tale about how we relate to the games we love. We don’t know these athletes, but we badly want to feel that we do.
“To be around Tiger (when he was a young champion) and I have been a couple of times at golf tournaments, you had no sense of what was behind any of this… He was impenetrable. He still is. I have no idea who Tiger Woods is. I really don’t. A lot of people have tried to figure it out and a lot of very fine writers have taken a crack at it, but we have no idea what’s inside him.”
But we try anyway, because “pretending that we know these people is important to us. Because it gives meaning to something that is otherwise meaningless,” Brunt said. “You know, games come and go and scores come and go. I’ve been writing about this stuff for a long time and it doesn’t add up to a hill of beans. But if we can give it meaning… if we can say there’s a human lesson here and there’s a real human involved in this, then it justifies it.
“We want to turn this into a parable. We want to turn all of sports into a parable. That’s how we understand the world.”
Narrative is a funny thing in sports, Brunt says, because we want to see our heroes tarnished, perhaps only so we can feel better about ourselves and use them as an example when they rise again.
“We all love a redemption story,” he explains. “Whether it’s true or not, we all want to believe that if you turn your life around, if you do the right things instead of the wrong things, if you follow the rules, you will be rewarded somehow. In the cosmic sense.”
Regardless of the meaning we want to attach to it, Woods’ return from near-retirement objectively has to rank with the greatest comebacks in the history of sports.
“Is this the greatest comeback story in sports history? That’s a big one. And I have a personal bias. I saw George Foreman win the Heavyweight Championship at age 46, having been away for 11 years and then coming back as a big fat guy and having people laugh at him, to lose nine rounds of a fight and knock a guy out in the 10th. So that was pretty good… but that probably is just me. Otherwise, yeah, this is the greatest comeback story in the history of sport.”