At one time, Robert Lusetich didn’t cover golf for FoxSports.com. He covered Tiger Woods.
Lusetich was assigned to all of his tournaments in 2009. Part of it was due to a book he was writing on Woods, but it also was the result of the insatiable appetite for all things Tiger. After winning his 14th major at the U.S. Open in 2008, the countdown was on for Woods’ inevitable march to Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 major victories.
So if Woods was teeing it up in competition in 2009, Lusetich was there to write about it.
“Tiger moves the needle, not just in golf, but in the world of sports,” said Lusetich of the unique assignment.The all-Tiger-all-the-time coverage hardly has dulled through the years. The nature of the beat, though, has changed for Lusetich and his fellow golf reporters.
Once again, Woods is the main focus at this week’s Masters. However, the story now has morphed from him making a run at history to chronicling what could be the end of his run.
Woods’ one-time brilliance almost seems like a distant memory in light of his stunning downturn. Forget about winning the Masters. With his short game mysteriously gone, it will be an upset if he makes the cut.
“Has there ever been a story like this in all of sports?” Lusetich said.
Indeed, the Woods spotlight could be so intense, if a player shots a 59 in the first or second round, he might not get mentioned until the fourth graph.
ESPN.com’s Gene Wojciechowski knows Rory McIlroy is going for his third straight major this week, and fifth before the age of 26. He is well aware that there are numerous stories to tell about other players.
Wojciechowski, though, still intends to empty his notebook on the player now ranked, incredibly, 111 in the world. He isn’t going to apologize to any critics who contend there’s too much Woods coverage.
“If you believe every athlete’s career is a three-act play, then this is Woods’ third act,” Wojciechowski said. “Just because he isn’t winning majors doesn’t make Woods any less compelling a story. I’d argue it makes it more compelling. You can legitimately ask the question: Is Tigers Woods done? Reasonable minds can disagree on the answer, but the question itself is telling and fascinating.”
Woods’ story always went beyond golf. First it was his transcendent play as the Michael Jordan of his game. Then there were the sordid details of his private life that played out as a tabloid soap opera for weeks.
Along the way, Woods attracted a legion of reporters. It wasn’t just Lusetich. While I didn’t attend all of his tournaments as the Chicago Tribune’s golf writer from 1997-2008, there were plenty I did cover because Woods was in the field. A common refrain among golf reporters was, “We’re here because of Tiger.”
The dynamic now has changed considering Woods’ many issues that have reduced his play and prowess in recent years.
“Tiger is the guy who got everyone here,” said Hank Gola, the veteran golf writer for the New York Daily News. “Now everyone is trying to hang on.”
Gola said he is fortunate his paper continues to send him to tournaments even if Woods isn’t playing, a rarity at a time when many publications have cut back on their golf coverage due to financial constraints. Gola tries to sell his editors on other good stories out besides Woods.
“I went to the [the Cadillac Championship at Doral] because of McIlroy,” Gola said. “When he wasn’t in the hunt, [his editors] only wanted 500 words on Sunday. However, they got interested in Dustin Johnson [who returned to the Tour after taking an extended personal leave last year] when he won and wanted a longer story. It show there are still are guys who move the needle.”
Gola, though, knows Woods remains the all-time needle-pusher. He can sense the difference when he checks in with his desk.
“We’ll still cover golf without him,” Gola said. “There’s just not as much of a heightened interested. When it’s about Tiger, they want to know about everything.”
Lusetich’s role also has changed. He no longer is focused strictly on Woods. With Fox Sports acquiring the rights to the U.S. Open, he now is the golf insider for Fox Sports 1.
However, as long as Woods is in the field, Lusetich, Gola and the other golf reporters know the drill. The latest turn in Woods’ career always will be the story.
“There’s still a great appetite for Tiger news,” Lusetich said. “And no one knows how it’s going to end.”
Recommended reading on sports journalism:
Richard Sandomir of the New York Times profiles Jason Whitlock, who is at the forefront of a new site for ESPN.com.
Jerry Brewer, formerly of the Seattle Times, is the new sports columnist for the Washington Post.
APSE began announcing the writer winners for its annual contest this week.
Ron Green of Charlotte Observer won’t be at the Masters for the first time since 1955. He explains why and shares his memories of covering the tournament.