The Last Word: Real question facing Tiger is why use doctor linked with drugs
Sunday 21 March 2010
Calling Tiger Woods "brave" to launch his comeback in the Masters spotlight is as absurd as saying his drive on that first hole of that first round will be the most watched opening tee shot in the game's history. It won't even be in the top 10,000 most-watched opening tee shots.
It would be if the Augusta National actually allowed their television "partners" to relay the images to the rest of the world. But no, as is their – thankfully – inimitable way, the green jackets limit the live coverage for the first three days to three and a half hours and as these happen to be the last three and a half hours, the golfing fanatic is kept waiting and berating.
It means that Woods is guaranteed to tee off with just the good ol' Augusta patrons looking on – and there's a strong possibility it will only be those privileged souls looking on when he putts out on the 18th. Yep, that's right, the most eagerly anticipated round since golf began would have been witnessed "live" by the average attendance of Norwich City.
And therein lies the reason why Augusta is a perfect fit for Woods. Not because he doesn't want to be seen doing his day job again – in truth, that's all he does want – but because of the almost paranoid control exerted by the Masters committee. Believe it, if Howard Hughes had been a golfing professional, Augusta would have been the only tournament he would have played all year.
But, however cosseted it may be, Woods will still have to answer questions and his choice of venue will not necessarily make some of these questions any easier. Indeed, by choosing to re-emerge before the sporting press he may just have assisted in shining the light down an avenue he does not really want to go. Golf writers will not want to know about sex-trysting or sex-texting and will likely only make a half-hearted attempt to discover what really went on in the run-up to the fire-hydrant incident. They will sit back when he repeats over and over, "I already answered that in my statement" and figure "ho hum, the news editors would have been happy but I suppose it's got nothing to do with sport". Yet they will not be so nonchalantly swatted away when it comes to Dr Anthony Galea. Indeed, the very fact Woods mentioned the words "performance-enhancing drugs" in his "mea culpa" will only make their inquisitions that much more insistent.
For those of us who had no wish or need to hear his apologies, it was the most startling passage of the soliloquy. "Some people have made up things that never happened," he said. "They said I used performance-enhancing drugs. This is completely and utterly false." Who said he had used PEDs? Nobody in the paid-for media, that's for sure. Tiger might have found a blogger making such an accusation somewhere on the internet, but then if Tiger trawls around the web long enough he will doubtless find himself accused of every violation known to man or beast. No, all the media said was that he had been treated by a doctor who has been implicated in the use of PEDs. The only reason any suspicions may or may not be lingering in the air is because Woods has not been around to address them since the affair first came to light six months ago. His fault. Nobody else's.
Let's start with the things we do know. On the behest of Woods's management company, Dr Galea travelled from Canada to Woods' Orlando home early last year to administer "blood-spinning". This treatment involves extracting some of the patient's blood, separating the platelets and plasma in a centrifuge, and then injecting the platelet-rich plasma back into the injured area. Woods underwent radical knee reconstruction the previous year. Dr Galea returned to see the world No1 three times and was in touch with him as recently as last October. He claims he declined to see Woods again because of "all this drugs stuff".
That "stuff" involved being investigated and later charged by the Canadian authorities after his assistant was stopped at the border in September, carrying on his behalf Actovegin, an unapproved drug for sale in Canada which it is illegal to sell or import in the US. Dr Galea's assistant also had Nutroprin, a brand of Human Growth Hormone, in her possession. Dr Galea has since said the HGH was for his personal use. He has admitted giving his patients HGH in the past, but maintains none of these were professional athletes. As they continue their own investigations in the US, Federal officers have interviewed athletes who Dr Galea has treated, including Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees baseball player who has admitted taking steroids earlier in his career. Dr Galea is not registered to practise medicine in the state of Florida.
Here's what we don't know. Why did Woods see a doctor in a state where he is not registered to practise and hence would be breaking Florida law by practising there? Why did Woods see a doctor who has openly confessed to using and administering HGH? Did he know Dr Galea's association with PEDs? Why did he have to use that particular doctor for "blood-spinning", a technique of which Dr Lewis Mahrana, a past president of the New York Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine, says: "every professional team's doctor, every sports medicine physician that I know, every major hospital institution has doctors that do it." Does he regret seeing Dr Galea? Is he annoyed with his management for arranging the treatment? Would he see Dr Galea again? Has Woods himself been contacted by the Feds?
All of these questions should be answered by Woods in Augusta. The Dr Galea connection seems to be perceived as part of the mistresses scandal, particularly after that quite frankly weird denial. It's not. Dr Galea has nothing to do with his private life, but everything to do with his sporting life. Woods has chosen to return at a venue where, he hopes, the emphasis will be solely on sport. So come on then, what's the story? It's time to be honest. About something that undeniably does have some relevance to his career.
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