Why I’m Rooting for Tiger But Didn’t Want My Female Friends to Know

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Brian Snyder / Reuters

These people seem to be rooting for Tiger. So is the author, and he feels weird about it.

I recently mentioned to a friend of mine that I thought Tiger Woods had a good chance to win the Masters this week. As I was getting ready to tell her that I’m whole-heartedly supporting a Tiger comeback, I hesitated. I realized I was ashamed to admit to her that I was rooting for him.

Two weeks ago, Tiger finally won a golf tournament. It was his first win since his marital infidelities broke his marriage, and seemingly, his golf game. For months after his spring 2010 return, he didn’t look like himself, playing his way out of tournaments, letting his putter get the best of him and showing no signs of his highly competitive self. His nagging injuries didn’t help either.

For a while, I sort of gave up on him. I was happy that Phil Mickelson was winning consistently and that young players like Rory McIlroy were beginning to challenge golf’s old guard.

Then I realized that the game had grown stale. Yeah, Phil’s fun to root for, but it’s best when his nemesis is in contention. The young guns are exciting, but to fully come into their own, shouldn’t they have to take down the one player who’s still arguably the world’s most talented?

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So sometime last year – I don’t know when, exactly – I started rooting for Tiger again. Now I want him to play well. I want him to win majors. I even want him to challenge the record of 18 major championships set by Jack Nicklaus, far and away my favorite player.

I only recently discovered I didn’t want my female friends to know.

According to a survey released on Tuesday by Nielsen and E-Poll, which measures an athlete’s endorsement power and marketability, only 17% of respondents said they like Tiger. More than half said they like Phil Mickelson and even more had a favorable opinion of Tom Watson.

Yet it’s clear that Tiger is starting to regain his fan base. A recent CNN story quoted grandmothers and grandsons gushing over Tiger like it was 1997, when Woods was just a cute kid with a thunderous swing and an unbreakable will to win.

“Golf is way better with Tiger,” Steve Cwienkala, who was watching practice rounds at Augusta this week, told CNN. “Whether you love him or hate him, the sport needs him.”

We dislike Tiger as a person, but we still want him to succeed on the golf course. We think his actions were despicable and embarrassing, but we can’t get enough of him swinging a golf club.

I wanted to find out if women would shun me for my hidden Tiger support. So I polled my female friends. I asked a few women I worked with. I went to a bar and talked to women there. I even interviewed my mom.

“I say go for it,” my mom told me. “I think this has humbled him. I don’t want it to see it destroy his life or his career. Root for him. Go, Tiger, go!”

“Go, Tiger, go?” I asked.

“Yeah, why not?” my mom said.

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According to a poll conducted on dating site howaboutwe.com, 47% of respondents said they would date someone who roots for Tiger, saying it has no bearing on their personality, while 42% said they would only if they supported him as athlete, not as a playboy. About 11% said no way.

Most of the women I talked to were completely fine with Tiger playing well again and winning golf tournaments. Granted, many of them either didn’t play golf, didn’t watch golf, or both. But the few who did still wanted him to play well and compete.

The potential for Tiger to regain endorsement deals and become a role model again did bother many of the women I interviewed. However, his dismal likeability ratings suggest this won’t be happening anytime soon.

Why are fewer women — and men, for that matter — rooting against Tiger than we might expect? After years of private matters staying private (think FDR and JFK), our moral crusade against philandering seems to have hit its peak with President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky in 1998. But today, we don’t seem to place the same emphasis on monogamy as we used to, at least among well-known personalities. For example, the chatter about Herman Cain’s alleged affairs, and Newt Gingrich’s extramarital activities, wasn’t nearly as biting as it would’ve been 10 years ago.

(PHOTOS: Tiger Woods’ Bad Day)

Still, cheering for Tiger is tricky. We don’t want to come off as supporting Tiger’s past. We’re just rooting for him to play well because when he’s on his game on Sunday at a major, he’s incredible. Tiger’s success is good for golf. With McIlroy ascending, and Mickelson still playing like a multiple-major winner, it will be fascinating to watch Tiger compete – if he can keep up his current play.

Still, I thought somebody would rip into me about this. Won’t anyone tell me it’s wrong to root for Tiger? Is it not morally hazardous to want this guy to succeed?

“I don’t like him,” my girlfriend told me. “I think it’s stupid that you do.”

Ok. Now I feel better.

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