'We all knew about Tiger's secret life'
Behind the aura of invincibility, rumours about his private life had been rife for years. Now they have gone public. So will the game's greatest player ever be the same again?
Saturday 05 December 2009
There have been other weeks during which Tiger Woods' life has borne little resemblance from Sunday to Sunday. In the second week of April in 1997 when all the potential suddenly turned into the phenomenon of the youngest major-winner in golfing history; in the first week of May 2006, when the death of Earl Woods forced the son to become a man with no mentor to turn to, no guru to impress.
There have been the weeks of the births of his two children; the week when he married; the week when he fretted about his career-threatening knee injury. Yet even when surrounded by of all these, the week which took November into December in 2009 will stand out most prominently in the tale of the Tiger. Here was the week when his publicity machine lost control. Here was the week when his reputation was sullied forever.
Certainly, the cosseted world of golf has never experienced seven days like it. When the reports first came through of a car crash outside his home in Orlando the primary fear was of a game without Woods. Those of us who cover the sport worried what this could mean. Without the world No 1, the modern game's narrative would be moribund. "Is Tiger playing?" is the first response a golf writer hears when he calls his newspaper to tell them which particular event he has travelled to that week. Without Woods, would there even be need for a golf correspondent?
But he was not badly hurt. At least not physically. Instead the focus switched to an area which I, and my colleagues, believed would always remain off-limits. The water which burst from that fire hydrant soon became a torrent of revelations. Woods was drowning in his own lies.
The rumours had been around for years. At the US Open in June, one of the few journalists who has managed to forge a relationship that could described as anything other than formal with Woods, told me how his wife, Elin Nordegren, has issued a final ultimatum. The adultery had to stop. By Turnberry the next month, the whisper hit the media centre that Elin had turned up at the Open Championship unannounced and uncontrollable. The adultery plainly hadn't stopped. Woods missed just his second cut in a major as a professional. The word was he had other things on his mind.
Yet none of us thought those "things" would make it into headlines and do so in such bizarre and such tawdry fashion. It was not the golfing media which broke the news, but the gossip media. Evidently, he had been on their radar awhile. A few years ago a leading American tabloid was supposed to be about to run with a story about a Woods affair, but allegedly pulled it when he agreed to pose for a front-page photoshoot. Crisis averted. But in reality, this was a Tiger-bomb waiting to explode.
Now it has and every day brings more fall-out. I was at a lunch with leading officials on Thursday and when a text message alert went off one of them said to me: "I'm frightened to read it unless it's more Tiger. I mean, when will it end?" The probability is there is some way to go yet, with more mistresses threatening to come forward and new facts emerging from both the cover-up and the crash scene. Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that Woods was snoring on the pavement when the neighbours arrived to see what had happened. Curiouser and curiouser.
Yet what will it all mean when the yarn is done? While Woods' first press conference (probably at a tournament in San Diego at the end of January) will be interesting to say the least, future press conference should also be livelier than they have been. Over the years, audiences with Woods have become an exercise in saying plenty while saying nothing. As the great American humorist, Rick Reilly, wrote on the ESPN website yesterday: "When Tiger answers a question in three words, he's mad he didn't answer it in two."
That's why Wednesday's admission was so stunning. The man who had never given anything away had just given everything away. Whatever else he goes on to say, no Woods quote will ever rival: "I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart." Previously, he had only ever owned up to regretting three-putts. That statement will follow Woods everywhere. Definitely on to the professional driving ranges, which are inevitably abuzz with the indignity. Jesper Parnevik, who introduced Tiger to Elin, has been the first to break ranks saying he had "lost all respect" for his long-time friend. The Swedish Ryder Cup player refused to reveal what the other pros were saying but did confess that the reaction had been huge. Some of them will doubtless be regarding this as payback time.
"The thing about Tiger and his camp is that they're the first to pick up on a player's weakness and poke fun at it," so a Tour player told me recently. "They can be pretty cruel." Will those barbs now be refunded? That will be as interesting to see as it would be to discover how Woods will react. For so long he has been considered so invulnerable that his rivals have been petrified to say anything which could be perceived as being critical. The few who have dared have been ostracised in the locker rooms.
But don't expect open season. Tiger will not be fair game. There is widespread recognition among the pros that Woods is the reason why they are all so rich and there is a genuine concern about the effects of this scandal. Golf is entering an unknown territory where the Superman is nowhere near as super as the world had been led to believe. As Rich Lerner from the Golf Channel put it: "There is grieving for the end of an era, the end of Tiger as heroic and untouchable. He's simply human now. Like the rest of us."
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