In four years golf will make its return to the Olympics. I can't wait. While covering the 2004 Games in Athens, I witnessed drama, courage and pressure that no other sports event can match. For the Olympic athlete, every day feels like the back nine on Sunday at the Masters.
Golf, with its inherent tension, belongs on the Olympic roster, but for the sport to make an impact, Tiger Woods must play. To have one of the most recognizable athletes in the world hitting golf shots in Brazil would add instant credibility to a sport making the biggest international foray in its long history. To have Woods marching into the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremonies—along with the sprinters and swimmers and high jumpers—would finally put to rest the tiresome argument that golfers are not athletes.
Then there's the appeal of Tiger's unmatched desire to succeed. To date he has won 73 PGA Tour events, including 14 major championships. But going for Olympic gold at age 39 against much younger players would no doubt spark his world-class competitiveness. Never question Tiger's patriotism. Standing on a podium as the anthem played would be the highlight of his career.
Unfortunately, Tiger's participation is not a sure thing. As the British Open gets under way, it's hard to ignore that Woods has not won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open. Moreover, Woods is not the same man. He has the aches and strains that come with a lifetime of beating balls, and a left knee that's been through four surgeries. Psychologically, he's still dealing with the fallout of his personal scandal and divorce. No one knows what the state of his game or health will be in 2016, but that's beside the point.
Much in the way that an aging and injured Larry Bird and a retired Magic Johnson added star power to the Dream Team during the 1992 Summer Games, Tiger's presence would add to the U.S. Olympic golf team.
Who can forget Magic and Bird on the same court in Barcelona, threading passes, swishing jumpers and inspiring teammates? If Woods was a lone wolf earlier in his career, he has grown to embrace the camaraderie of the team room at Ryder and Presidents Cups. From fierce Ping-Pong matches with Phil Mickelson to goofing off with the fans last year in Australia, Tiger has become part of the fabric of international team competition.
My Olympic dream is Tiger in Rio, making birdies the way Magic and Bird tossed no-look passes.
SI GOLF RANKING
PLAYER (FIRST-PLACE VOTES)
Tiger Woods (11)
Webb Simpson (3)
For expanded rankings, go to Golf.com/ranking
GOLF MAGAZINE TOP 100 TEACHERS POLL
Given 2-to-1 odds on Tiger Woods to win the British Open, would you take Tiger or the field?
ROBERT BECK (WOODS)
CAPTAIN AMERICA Woods will need to be in the top 15 in the world rankings in order to qualify for Rio.