The gospel, according to John

Posted: April 04, 2007

THERE USED TO BE a time when, if you wanted to worship your favorite athlete, all you had to do was seclude yourself in your bedroom and stare at all the posters and magazine pullouts plastered across your wall.

For John Ziegler, that just wasn't enough when it came to his favorite athlete, Tiger Woods.

So by the time Tiger consecutively had won the U.S. Open, British Open and the PGA Championship in 2000, already placing himself among some of the elite in the game, Ziegler was creating his own news with a Web site called tigerwoodsisgod.com, what you might call part wing and part prayer.

His site is by far the zaniest of the many that have popped up since Woods won the 1997 Masters and set the genuflecting in motion. Many are stuffed like a church on Easter, loaded with history and statistics. Others are simply MySpace pages and fan forums dedicated to their main man.

But none can match what Ziegler created in April 2000, a Web site theme rooted in a Sports Illustrated designation of Woods as Sportsman of the Year in 1996. The title on the cover of that magazine was "The Chosen One." In it, Tiger's late father Earl told the magazine, "Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity," while later adding that his son would be bigger than Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Buddha.

It was enough that, you might say, helped part the waters for Ziegler as he began outlining the framework of the Web site. The religious overtones, Ziegler says, go beyond the statements that Earl Woods made.

"There is a voluminous amount of material that is religiously oriented when it comes to Tiger Woods and what people have said about him, the things that he has done and the things that really seem to be biblical in their nature," said Ziegler, a Bucks county native who now lives in Los Angeles, where he hosts his own sports-talk radio show. His work history in Philly includes stints at WWDB, WIP and CN8.

"When you look at it, you can make a strong argument that there is [more] hard, substantiated evidence that leads one to think Tiger could be divine than there is for any other human being that has ever walked the planet. I'm not saying that he is divine; his dad indicated that he was. We're just asking the question and providing a warehouse for the mounting evidence that he could be."

Much of that "evidence" is contained in the official Web site, tigerwoods.com. Rob McNamara, vice president of ETW Corporation and the director of Tiger's official site, said he doesn't mind other Web sites that showcase Tiger. Nor do they feel they are in competition, although he does monitor other sites for any illegal activity.

McNamara says it is somewhat flattering to have various sites created in celebration of Tiger, but adds that the real Tiger faithful know the difference between fact and fiction.

"The key for us is that we have the official site of Tiger," McNamara says. "Tiger uses the site as his voice to the media and the fans whenever he wants to release any important information.

"It's definitely a more easier and efficient way to communicate. In the older days, that kind of information was sent out in press releases and done at press conferences. Nowadays, you may have to log onto a particular player's Web site to find out the latest information on them."

McNamara says tigerwoods.com can receive approximately 200,000 to 500,000 unique visitors and 2.5 million page views in a given month, depending on the type of news Tiger develops at a particular time.

Zeigler estimates a minimum of 9,700 unique viewers a day.

In several Google and Yahoo! searches, though, Ziegler's site often appeared in the first page in the search results. In recent years several Tiger-related articles and books have referenced the site in relation to Tiger. In May 2003, tigerwoodsisgod.com was named by Sports Illustrated as one of the top three things ever written about Tiger.

While Ziegler, who refers to himself as a "recovering Catholic," has all the themes and premises based around an actual church on his site - including a prayer service, a set of 10 commandments and what he calls "monk music" playing in the background - he says the Web site was created for humor and hero worship more than it was to be perceived as blasphemy by some viewers.

"When it comes to Tiger Woods Web sites, or Web sites period, we're clearly unique," Zeigler says. "It's been a lot of fun and very interesting, to say the least. Again, I'm not saying Tiger is God, but it's certainly worth taking a look at the evidence. One, to make you think, and two, to make you laugh."

Ziegler says he has yet to hear any complaints from anyone related to Tiger's operation about the site. While he does appreciate the reaction he gets from the visitors that stop by his site, some who agree totally and some who think he's purchased a first-class ticket to hell, Ziegler is waiting on just one person to give him feedback on the Web site.

His hero, Tiger Woods. "The only time I've seen him is at a press conference he had to launch his Learning Center [in Anaheim, Calif.]."

So what if Tiger or his people want him to shut the Web site down?

"I hope they do," Ziegler says. "If Tiger didn't want me to exist, I would shut it down. I wouldn't want to do anything that Tiger didn't want me to do."

All, of course, for a little fee, right?

Says Ziegler: "Of course. All it would take is a round of golf with Tiger and I'm gone." *

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