Is love helping Tiger Woods to bounce back from the firestorm of 2009?
While Rory McIlroy struggles with celebrity scrutiny, American has the mental strength to cope with it
Few are better equipped to manage the spike in scrutiny that comes with sporting romance than Tiger Woods. Though he is mistaken in believing that the soft-focus portraits published on Facebook will put the paparazzi off the scent, when the long lenses do come out, he has the mental armour to cope.
Woods looked at his most relaxed in his pre-tournament address at Bay Hill, giving fuller consideration to questions than at any time since the firestorm of Thanksgiving in 2009. If the love-in with Lindsey Vonn is responsible for that, we all owe her a vote of thanks. A happy golfer is a better golfer, as his two victories in four events this year demonstrate.
Rory McIlroy is in the foothills of the celebrity process. Until his unveiling as a Nike mannequin at the start of the year he was handling the increased surveillance well enough. His relationship with tennis poster girl Caroline Wozniacki was prodded and probed whenever his game slipped but ultimately he reached an accommodation with the interest. And then came the Honda Classic meltdown and "dental-gate".
The new sticks were not the problem. It was the burden of carrying the whole game, a weight Woods has lumped around town for 17 years, that tripped McIlroy. Ms Wozniacki was invoked in the rush to explain his impromptu withdrawal when in fact that relationship was helping him stay sane. Besides, when you are social media savvy and busy tweeting romantic snaps to all and sundry, the heat tends to go out of that particular lens.
In Woods' case, it is the novelty of his relationship with Vonn that has upped the ante. A couple of uploaded pictures will only whet the appetite. He is clearly confused about that, evidenced by the contradictory appeal for privacy via the global projector that is a social network site. Whatever, Woods is accomplished at preventing the intrusion from hurting his game.
Lower down the celebrity food chain, Wales rugby union pin-up George North and track cycling's new princess, Becky James, are protected by the relatively quiet space they and their sports occupy in the media. That might present a problem as their careers develop.
The same can be said of the golden couple of the velodrome, Laura Trott and Jason Kenny, who are at risk only at major championships and the Olympic Games.
Woods and McIlroy are up there with David Beckham. Search engines and news-stands glow red at the appearance of their names. "Posh and Beck'" has passed into common usage so familiar are we with the packaged elements of their private lives.
Beckham's savvy understanding of how the process works has enabled him to circumvent an undernourished IQ. When he does blunder through a press conference, as he did in Beijing on Tuesday with a woefully inadequate answer to the question of match fixing in Chinese football, it is enough that he expresses his pride at being involved in a project and grateful for the opportunity. Or put another way, it is the bland leading the blind.
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