New twist in Tiger's tale as idol turns spoiled brat

From messianic role model to money-grubbing motormouth in two short months. As John Carlin reports, the US media have declared open season on golfing wonderboy Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods, America's Tony Blair, is losing some of his lustre.

Not on the golf course, though the Mozart of the fairways did fail to win his last tournament and this week faces bitter competition in the US Open from Nick Faldo and other big-name Salieris whose spirit he has sought to crush.

But it is in the game of life where more serious doubts about Tiger Woods are beginning to emerge. People are suddenly wondering whether he is as great a guy as the public so desperately want him to be.

For Tigermania, the latest secular religion to grip the American imagination, goes beyond sport to an expectation that the young lad will behave as the proverbial "role model" for American youth and, with time, evolve into a moral force for universal good.

Earl Woods, his father, has played the role of John the Baptist to Tiger's Messiah. In interviews he has compared his son to Mandela and Gandhi, which could be brushed off as the unguarded remarks of an over-excited dad were it not for the fact that he goes even further in his recently published book. Here is a paragraph from Woods Sr's Training a Tiger: a Father's Guide to Raising a Winner in Both Golf and Life:

"The Almighty entrusted this precocious child to me. He is orchestrating this entire scenario and has a plan to utilise Tiger to make an impact on the world. I don't know what it is, but I sincerely believe it will be spiritual and humanitarian and will transcend the game of golf."

The media have gone along with all this, responding to the father's promptings and the public's hunger by imbuing him with saintly, supernatural characteristics, splashing him - in poses regal and heroic - on more front covers than Princess Diana.

In the week following his spectacular Masters triumph at Augusta, Newsweek drooled that Tiger, in addition to adoring his parents and caring deeply for the poor, "is no spoiled brat, no tantrum waiting to happen".

Forty days on, 40 days during which Tiger's virtue has been tested like never before, it may be time to reassess. For the evidence suggests that Tiger is a spoiled brat who does indeed succumb to tantrums. There is much to suggest, what is more, that he is a greedy, rude, hypocritical whiner who, by the harshly rigorous standards of political correctness applied to public figures in the US, may fairly be described as a homophobic racist.

As for his father, a retired colonel who served two tours of duty as a Green Beret in Vietnam, the more public exposure he has the more he comes across as an eerie - if not downright sinister - Svengali.

In retrospect, the rot set in within a day of Tiger's Masters' victory when he turned down an offer from President Clinton to transport him in an air force plane to New York to attend a ceremony in honour of the late Jackie Robinson, the legendary black baseball player. Tiger offered no explanation for what must go down as the mother of all snubs though his agent strained credulity when he said that Tiger "found it a little curious that he wasn't important enough to be with the President until he won the Masters".

It was not until a month later, in mid-May, that Tiger thought fit to give his reasons in a tone that came across as even more impertinent than his agent's. "Well, one is I had planned my vacation already. And, two, why didn't Clinton invite me before the Masters? ... If he wanted me there, I think it would have been best if he would have asked me before." Tiger also explained that he had some business meetings he had to attend and hinted that he did not want to be used as a political tool.

The media, unwilling to tarnish the heroic image they had so assiduously built up, largely let the matter go. For similar reasons few commentators felt compelled to point out the obvious contradictions that emerged from the celebrated racial incident with his fellow golf pro, Fuzzy Zoeller.

The hapless Zoeller, it will be recalled, was all but hung, drawn and quartered after it emerged that at the Masters he had referred to Tiger as "a little boy" and joked that he hoped he wouldn't order "fried chicken and collard greens, or whatever else they eat" at the official celebratory dinner.

Tiger himself responded with a few self-righteous noises that might have been appropriate were it not for the

rather more offensive remarks he was quoted as having uttered in an interview published in GQ magazine. "What I can't figure out is why so many good-looking women hang around baseball and basketball," he said. "Is it because, you know, people always say that, like black guys have big dicks?"

And then there were the jokes he told GQ about oral sex and lesbians, notable among which was the distinctly unfunny, "Why do two lesbians always get where they're going faster than two gay guys?" "Because the lesbians are always going 'sixty-nine'."

In a more mature, less uptight culture than America such cracks might have been forgiven as the silly outpourings of a sexually frustrated adolescent. Yet had Zoeller or any other ordinary mortal said such things, they would have been forced, as Zoeller was, into a public apology; they would have been stripped, as Zoeller was, of their advertising contracts.

Tiger, meanwhile, has spent more time in business meetings than at the golf course since his Masters triumph, negotiating sponsorship deals with fast food chains, watch-makers and soft drink manufacturers and others which, on top of his contracts with Nike and Titleist, will help turn him into possibly the richest self-made 21-year-old in history.

His father ever driving him on, he has been frenzied in his pursuit of cash. He has signed multi-million-dollar deals for an authorised biography and a book of golf instruction, on top of Earl Woods' bizarre Dr Spock- meets-General Patton, Training a Tiger, which relates how dad taught the two-year-old man-babe simultaneously to play seven irons, memorise his multiplication tables and acquire integrity, patience and "inner self- love".

Again, no one seemed to remark on the unedifying haste with which a young man with perhaps 30 years of top-flight golf left in him was going about making himself grossly wealthy. Not, at any rate, until he committed the mortal sin of refusing to talk to the media, and by extension his adoring public, after his failure to win the Colonial tournament in Texas two weeks ago. Tiger fled out of sight seconds after downing his last putt, shockingly revealing a face we had never seen before: that of a bad loser, a young man gracious in victory but ungenerous in defeat.

That, as it turns out, was the big test and he failed it. Ever since articles have begun appearing in newspapers from Dallas to Chicago to Orlando to New York, belatedly dredging up his rudeness towards the Commander in Chief, his hypocrisy over the Zoeller incident, given his remarks to GQ, the offensive zeal with which he and his father are marketing their new celebrity.

"The Tigermoon is over," declared the Dallas Morning News last week. "Now he's fair game."

The pity of it is that he should have become such big game. Had his father not filled his head with such monumental pretensions he might have been spared much of the exaggerated scrutiny that lies ahead. He might have been treated not as a national symbol but as a nice kid who sometimes says foolish things, who is sometimes arrogant and rash, but who happens to play a magnificent game of golf.

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