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Is Tiger Woods Still Relevant?

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No one wins a golf tournament so much as they don’t lose it. It’s 72 holes of survival of the fittest, and he who makes the fewest mistakes comes out on top on Sunday afternoon.

It’s a sport with no teammates and only one person who understands you—the caddie. You spend four days trying to avoid about 17 miles worth of land mines and it can all blow up on you in the final few feet—or even inches.

Does the collar get any tighter than it does for the professional golfer on the tourney’s last day, when he starts the morning with a four stroke lead and looks behind him and sees a gang charging after him, making birdies and sinking 25-foot putts, all while looking cool and collected?

It can be the loneliest place on Earth—being the leader of a major golf tournament in its waning hours. The pressure has gotten some of the game’s greats, and a whole lot of its goods.

The pro golfer can’t duck into the showers and hide out after the 72nd hole and then sneak out the back door of the locker room, avoiding reporters. He can’t point to an error by his third baseman or an errant pass by his point guard or a strange play called by his coach as a contributing factor to his loss.

Golf tournaments aren’t won, as a rule. They’re just not lost.

No one can snatch a tournament in come-from-behind fashion without a conspiracy involving the leader. The followers can make all the birdies and eagles that they want, but they’re useless unless the leader is three-putting or slicing a drive into the woods or hitting a fat fairway wood into a bunker on the approach.

The caveat here is that none of this was true when Tiger Woods was on top of the golfing world.

Tiger won tournaments. He didn’t not lose them.

Woods was the exception to the aforementioned corollaries. He was the exception, no matter if you wanted to throw Hogan, Nicklaus, Jones and Nelson into the mix. Woods was better than them all. He played in a league of one.

Golf was a game that Tiger Woods owned, more than Muhammad Ali owned boxing and more than Pete Sampras ever owned tennis. Tiger didn’t come from ahead to lose, and when he came from behind to win, the leader never had a prayer.

Woods became one of the world’s best known athletes, traveling the globe in his red shirt and black pants and all those magic wands in his bag. He had a smile that could light Broadway during a blackout.

Woods was the prodigy golfer—swinging clubs that were taller than he, when he was still diapered. Other kids had a playground; Woods had a driving range.

Golf was forewarned. In the years leading up to Tiger joining the PGA tour, the stories of his prowess on the links were told the same way wide-eyed bank patrons of the 1930s talked about Dillinger’s jobs.

Golf was forewarned. Tiger Woods didn’t sneak up on the PGA. His presence was announced beforehand, like a tornado—and no one can do anything about those, either, except weather them.

Woods won tournament after tournament—with more than a few majors sprinkled in—and when he wasn’t winning he was often scaring the bejeebers out of the guy who did win. From 1997-2009, Woods was the tour’s no. 1 money winner nine times out of 13.

Almost $100 million Woods has won, slapping that tiny, dimpled ball around like no one else.

Woods owned golf. He won as a teenager and he won as a young man and he won as a veteran and he won off the course, with endorsements and a gorgeous wife and a beautiful family.

There’s irony—and maybe a cruel joke—somewhere in the fact that the demise of Tiger Woods began on a Thanksgiving weekend.

It was November 2009 when the story broke of Woods being involved in a bizarre car wreck near his home. It wasn’t long before the facts began to ooze out: Woods had been a naughty boy, cheating on his gorgeous wife, former model Elin Nordegren.

Then out of the woodwork came women who also claimed to have had sexual relations with Woods.

Divorce soon followed and golf was put on the back burner while Woods sought help for his destructive, deviant behavior.

The road back for Tiger Woods has been pocked with injury and poor play. He’s an also ran now; just one of the guys to fill the field. He hasn’t won a tournament in two years, not really coming close, in fact.

He lost his wife and his family and his endorsements. He lost his edge on the golf course and his aura. No one fears Woods now; it’s as if the PGA tour has been freed from his bondage.

The majors are being won by first-timers and Cinderella stories. Woods has abdicated his throne and a bunch of paupers are getting the chance to sit in it.

The latest news about Woods came earlier this week, and like all news about him since November 2009, it wasn’t uplifting.

Woods announced that longtime caddie Steve Williams, Tiger’s best friend on the golf course since 1999, was being canned.

“I want to express my deepest gratitude to Stevie for all his help, but I think it’s time for a change,” Woods said, not explaining why a change was needed.

Speculation is that the relationship between Woods and Williams chilled like champagne on New Year’s Eve after Tiger and Nordegren split.

Williams joins swing coach Hank Haney as ex-Woods employees turned scapegoats for their boss’s poor play.

Since caddies get paid based on the success of the golfers for whom they work, the past two years have been lean times for Williams, who nonetheless stuck by Woods.

All it got Williams was kicked to the curb.

In an interview with Television New Zealand following his firing, Williams said, “Obviously, working through a scandal, he’s had a new coach, a swing change, the last 18 months has been very difficult and I’ve stuck by him through thick and thin. I’ve been incredibly loyal — and then to have this happen, basically you could say I’ve wasted two years of my life, the last two years.”

Williams will probably be better off in the long run, because it’s becoming apparent that Tiger Woods simply isn’t relevant anymore. He’s a broken man with Achilles and knee injuries who fights himself on the course something fierce, and loses.

It’s not overly dramatic to suggest that Woods, at age 35, is in the sunset of his golf career.

And, as usual with the pro golfer, he has no one to blame but himself.

Categories : Golf, Out of Bounds
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In journalism, it’s called burying the lead.

It’s the transgression of tucking the most important part of a story several paragraphs down, instead of in the opening, where it belongs.

Tiger Woods buried the lead.

First, Woods, the disgraced golfer, pitchman, and icon, doesn’t owe me an apology. He doesn’t owe you one, either. Or the person to your left, to your right, behind you, or in front of you.

He doesn’t.

The only people to whom he owes a big old “I’M SORRY” are his family and the companies who hired him to sponsor and promote their goods and services. That’s it.

I watched Woods slog through his scheduled statement on television on Friday, as did millions of others—also to whom Woods owes no apology, by the way—and while I found the dramatic pauses and looks into the camera and heavy sighs to be a little too rehearsed for my liking, I didn’t hear what was truly important until several minutes into the monologue.

Woods said, finally, about 10 minutes into his spiel, that he needs help, and has been getting it, by way of therapy—for some 45 days or so.

That was what he should have begun with; that was his lead, and he buried it.

I’ve never been a fan of the public apology. It’s the ultimate closing of the barn door after the horses are out.

“I’m sorry that I got caught,” is what the deliverer of such an apology is really saying. And don’t get me started on the apologies that, in reality, place the blame on those harmed.

“I’m sorry if you were offended,” is how those apologies go.


But Woods, at least, admitted that he needs help for his problem, which seems to be addictive in nature. That his addiction comes in the form of something that looks like 36-24-36 doesn’t make it any less problematic, or that which shouldn’t be taken seriously.

I don’t know what else you can ask from someone, if they admit to a problem, albeit a tad late, and take steps to get help for that problem.

The apology that comes without that addendum isn’t much of an apology; it’s merely a bone tossed to the masses over which we are to fight.

Tiger Woods, I’ve written before, is the Muhammad Ali of our time.

Ali, at his peak, was the most recognizable athlete in the world. You could argue he was the most recognizable person in the world. He dominated his sport and dwarfed his competition, both in terms of ability and charisma and largesse. When he left the sport briefly—forced out because of avoiding the draft—boxing wasn’t even close to the same as when he was in it. When he returned, so did boxing.

Woods dominates golf now like no man before him. I’ve seen Nicklaus and Palmer and Norman and Watson and Miller, and none of them distanced themselves as far from the rest of the field as Woods now has from his brethren.

Woods doesn’t yap like Ali did, but that doesn’t make him any less famous or iconic. There’s Tiger Woods, and then there’s the rest of the PGA tour members. He’s the dragon they all try like mad to slay every weekend, and just about every Sunday they fail.

But no golfer, that we know of, ever did the kinds of things that Woods has now admitted—to a degree—to doing. None of them ever had to schedule TV time to look their public in the peepers and say “sorry.”

But it’s not the “sorry” that’s important here. Anyone can get their hand caught in the cookie jar and schedule a time to publicly express regret. And they have.

But it’s taking that extra step—the admission of an addiction to cookies, for example—and seeking professional help that gives the public apology some credence.

Woods said that he plans on returning to golf someday, though he readily admitted that he has no idea when that day might come. He is rightfully placing his therapy and treatment on the front burner. Golf will always be there, waiting, when Woods is ready to grip a club again.

Woods says he has a long way to go—and he probably wasn’t just referring to his treatment. He has a marriage to repair, and that may not even be possible. Golf will always be waiting, but his wife might not.

Woods has a long way to go with his public, too, though that should be of less concern to him. He doesn’t have to be popular to make more money in golf. He doesn’t have to be the sport’s darling anymore to continue to dominate it.

Tiger Woods is a man with human frailties and an obvious weakness, and he’s paid the price for that. Now he is moving to fix it. I don’t know what else anyone should want other than that.

The apology was fine, but not necessary. He didn’t cheat on me. He didn’t cheat on you. He didn’t cheat on anyone other than his lovely wife and his beautiful children. Oh, and he cheated himself, for he may have lost that lovely wife and thus broken up what, on the surface, appeared to be a happy home.

He may have lost all that truly matters. No amount of Masters wins or U.S. Open victories or contracts to hawk Gillette products can make up for that kind of loss.

The end of this story, this cautionary tale, hasn’t been written.

But Woods is seeking help. He’s taken the first baby step to reparations.

That’s far more important than any “I’m sorry.”

Categories : Golf, Out of Bounds
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