James Corrigan: Tiger Woods is merely living up to golf's traditions - Golf - Sport - The Independent

James Corrigan: Tiger Woods is merely living up to golf's traditions

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Golfers don't lie. It is buried deep within the game's proud culture. They call penalties on themselves and they do so before their transgressions are pointed out by others. Otherwise a stigma attaches itself that is impossible to shake off. Whichever fairway the guilty wanders so will follow the whisper, "there goes the cheater".

That only applies on the course, however. Off the course it is an entirely different matter. Walk into – or that should be "break into" – any exclusive members golf club anywhere in the world and the rogues will soon become apparent. Perhaps as the so-called "last male bastions" it is inevitable that what is now, somewhat ironically, known as "laddish behaviour" would be accepted, if not celebrated. Tiger Woods might very well believe he has not been "true to my values" as he bids to rescue his marriage after the mistresses began to come forward. But as far as golf goes, he is merely living up to the traditions of the dustier corners of the locker room.



Among the many opportunistic emails to hit the in-box in the wake of Woods' belated confession yesterday was a particularly shameless one from an extra-marital dating agency, which, it is keen to point out, "creates a platform for married people to pursue affairs". There was nothing clandestine about the subject box - "Tiger Tips a Trend: Golfers Are Biggest Cheaters".



Apparently, more than 55 per cent of its 380,000 members are golf fans. (But then, saying that the possibility/probability is that more than 80 percent of that 380,000 are football fan). "Golf is a sport often played by high-fliers, and we have already seen that go-getting ABC1 individuals are those most likely to cheat," said a company spokesman. "It's all about achievement; these people are relentless when it comes to getting what they want - the best car, the perfect home.



"But many don't stop at material possessions. When faced with an imperfect relationship, it is these individuals who will be most likely to pursue something extra. Opportunism plays a part too. If the rumours about Woods are true, he couldn't have picked a better sport. Golfing weekends and long afternoons on [the] range provide a perfect alibi for an affair."



Some might believe achievement might be better measured in the quality and happiness of a family life, but perhaps this not the time to be getting all moralistic; even for a father with two children under the age of three. Some of Woods's peers will certainly have no right to (not that any of his fellow professionals would dare to criticise the untouchable one who has always been Tiger).



Extra-maritals are commonplace on Tour and some of the names of those who have strayed, and indeed the circumstances they have strayed, could fill the National Enquirer from now until Britain's next major victory. When he returns to the players' lounge, Woods is more likely to get a sly wink and a "you old devil, you", than any looks of admonishment. Why? Because the majority of his rivals defer to him with an unconditional faith which might embarrass a Don. Woods, in American speak, "turns the dial" and he is the reason why they are so rich.



And Tiger will continue to go on doing so, unless he decides to do anything rash, such as sit on his laurels to concentrate on his personal life. The biggest joke doing the rounds is that his sponsors will begin to leave in droves. Anyone who believes that does not know who his sponsors are and how the Woods endorsements work. There are no droves.



Many may now surmise that the 33-year-old has not been too selective in parts of his life - but in those companies he represents the opposite is true. Woods has quite purposefully built up a limited portfolio of backers, but although their number is small, the numbers are huge. In 2007 - his last full season because of a knee reconstruction – Woods earned $23.5m on the course and $105m off it. That is more than double any other athlete in the world. If they have been good to him, he has been good to them. Nike, in particular.



It was no surprise that Woods' equipment manufacturer was today first to issue support that sounded suspiciously unequivocal. They have so much tied up in the world No 1. Nike are reportedly paying him $20m a year over a 10-year period. But the figures suggest they have him cheap. In 1996, when Nike signed Tiger as he said "hello world", the company only sold golf shoes, trousers and polo shirts. Now it sells clubs and balls as well. In fact it sells them up to an estimated £650m a year. All because of he in the red shirt.



Why would they jump bag at this juncture? Is there any golfer out there, male of female, who will suddenly NOT want to hit it like Tiger? Maybe his image has been irrevocably tainted by all this, but one by one his sponsors have started to come forward with their backing. They've even outnumbered the mistresses.



No, if Woods keeps winning he is not about to see a significant financial downturn. Not significant in his world, anyway. Even more people know who Woods is now and while the newly-initiated will not be fans – all but in the extra-marital dating sector, of course – they can still be brought over. There is a narrative of Woods as the redemption man which could genuinely make his marketing team weep.



But, as said, that does involve him winning. Will his "transgressions" affect his game? The suspicion is they already have. At The Open Championship in July, Woods pitifully missed the cut in and now comes the story that tensions at home were already bubbling over. As one looks through the Turnberry tapes he does seem distracted; however flimsy that may sound.



Interestingly, that was only the second major cut he had missed as a professional. The first came in 2006, at the US Open in Winged Foot, when he was, unarguably, going through emotional turmoil. His father and mentor, Earl, had died six weeks before and Woods was clearly in no fit state to tee it up. Fair enough, he was grieving. But it was how he came back from that life-changing upheaval which could be viewed as pertinent in this regard.



Woods won the next two majors and a new chapter of his dominance began. The scenario is immeasurably different on this occasion and the theory will doubtless be posed of an instant bankruptcy of his aura. So the other golfers will now look on Woods as a fallible individual? The truth is they always did look on Tiger as human; the rumours that have done the rounds for years ensured they did. The likelihood is that come the 2010 major season he will carry on losing more than wins. But still winning more than anyone else.

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