Decade of Dominance

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:58 AM ET

It was exactly 10 years ago today a young fellow by the name of Eldrick T. Woods -- Tiger to his friends -- made his pro debut at the PGA's Greater Milwaukee Open. In the decade since, he has redefined the sport of golf and become arguably the most famous athlete on the planet. Sun columnist Eric Francis takes a look at Tiger's impact on the game -- and the world.

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Tiger Woods is a South Park fanatic who has been known to check into hotels as 'Cartman.'

He's a towel-snapping frat boy with friends who confide he has the occasional farting contest with caddie Steve Williams while walking the fairway.

While the PGA Tour keeps disciplinary actions in-house, the Washington Post reports no player has paid more in fines for swearing on the course than the world's No. 1.

Turns out, he is human after all.

Exactly 10 years into a pro career that has seen him dominate like no athlete before him, Woods finds himself with only one test left -- the test of time.

Winning his 12th major and 51st tourney before turning 31, Woods single-handedly changed the face and game of golf despite repeatedly reinventing his swing and mindset.

Bursting onto the scene as a power hitter who stunned the world with drives 50 yards longer than his rivals, he's now more of a shot-maker.

He's rewritten golf's record books, establishing new lows for scores at all four majors including the U.S. Open, which he won by 15 strokes in 2000.

He's also upped the ante for sponsors, pushing golf's TV ratings through the roof and increasing annual PGA Tour purses to three-and-a-half times what they were when the hotshot Stanford grad nicknamed 'Urkel' broke onto the Tour in 1996.

Becoming the first black player to earn his Tour card since 1985 when Adrian Stills broke in, it's interesting to note no blacks have joined the PGA or LPGA tours since -- this despite the fact Tiger's charitable foundation has pumped tens of millions into golf programs for inner city youths. Not for a second does this suggest he's failed to have an impact on the elitist country club attitude that long surrounded a game still predominantly geared to upper- and middle-class whites.

Tiger's likeness transcends the golf world in a way that makes good on his father Earl's bold prediction his son would make an impact on humanity. With apologies to Muhammad Ali, there may not be a more recognizable name or face on earth.

His worldwide recognition stems not only from winning nearly one in every four tourneys he plays in and earning $62 million on tour but from the marketing engines at Nike, Buick and others who've paid hundreds of millions to promote him and their products.

Yet despite his unmatched fame, he's managed to control his image and his privacy as well as he can a 7-iron on Sundays.

Any controversies surrounding Woods stem from either his colourful language (which is bound to slip with that bright a spotlight on him and that intense a personality), or a comment an opponent made about him. His answer to anyone who questions his infallibility is always a sound thrashing, punctuated by a fist pump on the 72nd hole while wearing his trademark red shirt.

Surprising no one with his brilliance anymore, the man who turns robot every major has proven he can beat opponents with intimidation, power, shotmaking, putting or even the odd hint of luck. No one is better at self-motivation than Woods.

Whereas he studied the tactics and techniques of all golf greats before him, today's golfers now look only at him -- the chiseled, intensely focused range fanatic.

Having missed just four cuts in 10 years, nothing speaks to his perfectionism as his decision to tear down the swing that won him the 1997 Masters by 12 strokes. Suggesting he 'needed to get better,' so he could consistently win on tour, he came back better than ever before deciding once again to reconstruct his swing.

Famously anal, he's known to scrutinize and iron freshly pressed shirts and make his own bed.

The sad, unfortunate truth is that he's the product of overbearing, domineering parents, the likes of whom deserve to be chastised, not celebrated. Another sad reality is that in a sport of gentlemen, he's attracted star-gazers who show up only to see him and in turn disrupt everyone else on the course. It's also encouraged every hack in the world to throw on a t-shirt and cutoffs to head to the local course where five-hour rounds, rising green fees and pricier equipment are now the norm because of Woods.

On the flipside, more and more courses are being built and every time he tees it up we have the privilege of watching history in the making.

Whether you call him Cartman, Urkel or just Tiger, nobody in sport can match his brilliance. Ever.


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