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Landis, Tiger rise to the occasion

Everyone loves an underdog.

Maybe that’s why I was rooting for Floyd Landis to win the Tour de France and even rooting for Tiger Woods to win the British Open on Sunday. After all, both overcame hardship to win their titles, aided by stirring performances over the weekend.

At age 30 and with 11 major championships in hand, Tiger is without question the biggest golf star of his generation, possibly ever. So, since when has Tiger Woods ever been an underdog?



I mean, does anyone not know who Tiger Woods is? Maybe that’s why I’ve had a hard time rooting for him in the past. He was a star in the making at age 2 when he appeared in a putting contest against Bob Hope on the Mike Douglas Show in 1978.

Later, Tiger’s star soared when he turned pro and signed a rich contract with Nike, and since then, we’ve seen all the highlights.



Maybe that’s why I never rooted for Tiger Woods before. Maybe it’s one of those generation barriers and the fact that he is a major threat to beat the career record of 18 major championships held by Jack Nicklaus ” a star I grew up with.

Don’t get me wrong, I cannot help but admire the many feats Tiger has made before. But somehow, watching his 4-iron shot from 204 yards out for eagle on the 14th hole at Royal Liverpool on Friday took on a new meaning.

As anyone knows, Tiger has gone through some trying times this year. His father, Earl, passed away on May 3 after a long bout against cancer. Tiger took nine weeks off after that and then, when he returned to play the U.S. Open, he failed to make the cut ” a first at a major in his career.

In my eyes, that made Tiger an underdog. Even when he was being chased by a gutty Chris DiMarco, who lost his own mother, Norma, to a heart attack on July 4. It was quite a duel on Sunday, and in the end, Tiger became the first player since Tom Watson in 1982-83 to win the British Open in consecutive years.

This one was for “Pops.” And that was pretty neat.

On the other hand, the rise of Landis as a cycling star has been more modest. Raised in a Pennsylvania Mennonite community, Landis won a junior national mountain bike title at age 18 in 1993 and moved to California two years later to pursue the sport he loved full time.

In time, he established a reputation for toughness ” he once finished a race riding on his rims ” a toughness that served him well in this Tour de France. Serious cycling fans already knew about Landis, who finished ninth overall in the 2005, which made him a candidate to become America’s “next” Lance Armstrong.

Landis was crowned, but it was hardly easy. Before the Tour even began, Landis lost two of his Phonak teammates due to doping allegations. Then, he got a late start in the Tour’s prologue after his rear tire was cut. He still finished ninth in the prologue and went on to wage a back-and-forth duel with Oscar Pereiro for the yellow last week.

Then disaster struck on Stage 16, when Landis faltered late and dropped from first to 11th in the standings ” more than eight minutes behind Pereiro. Seemingly, it was all over.

However, the 30-year-old Landis showed his toughness just one day later, when he showed what a strong climber he is and pulled off a stunning comeback with a 120-kilometer breakaway attack to win Stage 17 on Thursday. That brought him back to within 30 seconds of the lead, which he seized on Saturday with a third-place performance in the individual time trial.

Keep in mind, Landis did all this with an arthritic hip from a 2003 crash and plans to have replacement surgery in the fall.

You can’t help but admire fortitude like that. After all, don’t we all admire an underdog?

Dave Price can be reached at dprice@sierrasun.com or by calling (775) 882-2111, ext. 362.


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