Woods parts with the putter that won him $90m as troubles take toll
Change of club reveals unsettled mind of the fallen conqueror of the Old Course
Wednesday 14 July 2010
It's over. Tiger Woods confirmed it. The separation is complete; the trust lost, the bond broken, the disloyalty irrecoverable. The world No 1 has a fresh model in his hands.
But enough of his new putter or, indeed, of his staggering discarding of the old implement which in a 12-year relationship helped him win more than $90m, more than 70 titles and 13 majors. Yet again the media wanted to know about his private life, about the shame, about the collapse of his world and, yes, his aura. Yet again the media went home disappointed.
The rumours remain just that – rumours. The circle of deceit remains open-ended. When Woods tees off in the Champions' Challenge this evening he will do so without spectators knowing whether that particular champion is still married or not. Will the spectators really care? Who cares if they care? The destruction of Mr Indestructible is just too irresistible not to report.
Woods cannot escape it, although these next few days at least offer him a pathway to some light. The trouble is he can't yet see it through all the scrutiny, through all the shame and, worst of all, through all the distraction which has undoubtedly blighted his game. The Tiger Woods of 2010 is unrecognisable from the Tiger Woods of 2005 and the Tiger Woods of 2000. That golfer stood so tall and so proud in the Kingdom of Fife soon to be renamed the Kingdom of Tiger. In truth, no golfer had ever looked so at home in the Home of Golf.
But now he appears lost, walking around the suddenly unfamiliar confines searching for some answers. If anybody is still of the opinion that the scandal has not affected him, then consider that a fortnight after changing his ball-type he is now changing the club he has loved more than any other. "It's invaluable," he said just before the 2005 Open here. "It is irreplaceable. You can't put a dollar value on it. I have tested a bunch of putters. It's just so hard to get my gamer out of there. I've tried other putters and some of the putters do feel better than mine. But coming down the stretch on Sunday and I know I need to make a putt, I know this putter has done it."
Even his marital vows sounded loose compared to that oath. But then, that tried and tested putter, his "gamer", has become just the latest thing in his life to depart. Of the old Woods, only the management and the caddie are the same. And yesterday's comments by the latter have led many to predict that another Tiger relationship is soon to reach its sudden conclusion.
For now, however, Woods must rush to discover the solution; and do so in an atmosphere he is plainly finding uncomfortable. On the seventh yesterday, photographers heard him mutter to Mark O'Meara: "I'm sick of all this stuff with the public." He has tried to engage them and insists he is still trying. But the reality suggests he has all but given up. At the Masters, he spent the first three days tipping his hat and smiling. For the last two days of practice he has missed out the first and the 18th. No doubt that has something to do with the convenience of staying in the Old Course Hotel by the side of the 17th. But in terms of his stated mission to interact with the crowd it has hardly helped. The opening and last holes are where most fans are massed.
When he left the press centre here yesterday Woods did actually stop to sign a few autographs. Yet the words of his friend O'Meara hinted at how much it rankled. "That's always a thing he battles with," said the 1998 Open champion. "If he signs two or three young people's autographs, but he doesn't get to them all, then he's not so good. He looks at it like: 'It's not that I don't want to sign the autographs, it's that if I start going down that road, when do I draw the line?'"
And therein lies the hell for Woods. He feels trapped in the superstardom of his own making, although only now does he notice the walls. For 20 minutes yesterday, his eyes looked more joyless than perhaps they ever have in that hated pre-tournament conference. It was his first inquisition on British soil since the fire hydrant bust forth its sordid revelations and he was careful not to come across as surlily as he did at the US Open. Then he snapped at a British journalist who dared ask about the divorce: "That's none of your business." Now it was: "I'm not going to go into that." It was another way of saying nothing and many will ask why should he?
In fairness, Woods can't win. If he does say nothing they call him evasive; if he says anything his statements of self-improvement are set next next to all of his lies. When Woods returned from his five-month exile, the majority view was that he would find his salvation on the course. All he has found is frustration. Even in his remarkable top-four finishes in the Masters and the US Open he has cut a figure of angst.
The hope for his backers is that his affinity with this Old Course will rekindle the brilliance. He is certainly pinning much of his own faith in such a turnaround. "I haven't gone this long into a season without winning," he said. "But I'm looking forward to going out there and playing. I understand how to play this course. It's a matter of going out there and putting it together."
If he can and does, he will become the first player ever to win three Opens at St Andrews. But it is not just his aversion to "slow green" which makes his latest history pursuit verge on the unlikely. As he said, "the weather is not supposed to be very good." Woods has won his three Opens when it has been sunny and breathless; he has laboured in the wind and rain.
All of this is stacking up against Woods; as is his form, his image, his psyche. In desperation he has run off with a new putter and it will be fascinating to see how it fares. Of course, there is a clear and present danger that this perceived panic move could lead to yet more ridicule. On the press benches it already has. So one American journalist quipped yesterday. "Tiger's said he's only used this putter for the last 12 years. Is there 120 we don't know about?"
That's where Woods is right now. Rooted in the punchline. Just think, he was always the man laughing loudest at the Old Course. In this timeless golfing paradise everything has changed.
Tracking Tiger: 15 years, 13 mistresses and his form in four opens at st andrews
Age: 19. World ranking: amateur.
Form going in: The Stanford University student had won all of the main American collegiate awards and would soon gain his second of three US Amateur Championships. Three months earlier, he had competed in his first major, the Masters, where he was the only amateur to make the cut before finishing 41st.
Private life: Had just ended a three-year relationship with his first girlfriend – by letter. Woods met Dina Gravell at high school and the pair were said to be inseparable. But Woods broke it off after his father objected.
"He said my parents are very concerned you're a big distraction for me and I have to listen to them. We have to break up," Gravell recalled last year. "I felt I was punched in the stomach."
Performance: Made the cut but finished down the pack in 68th place. Was not even the best-placed amateur.
Age: 24. WR: 1.
Form going in: Woods had won four times already that season, including the US Open the month before. His 15-shot victory set a new mark for the majors.
Private life: Woods was dating the law student Joanna Jagoda. There were rumours they were about to marry – she even travelled with him to Scotland. But the word was that Earl Woods did not approve – Woods ended it.
Performance: Overhauled first-round leader Ernie Els, before pulling clear to win by eight shots. It was to be the second leg of his Tiger Slam, which saw him hold all four major crowns.
Age: 29. WR: 1.
Form going in: Woods had won three titles that season, including the Masters in April. He had finished second in the US Open, beaten by Michael Campbell.
Private life: Woods married the model Elin Nordegren the previous October. The pair had been engaged for a year after being introduced at the 2001 Open by the Swedish pro Jesper Parnevik.
Performance: Led from the first round, eventually prevailing by five shots from Colin Montgomerie. Lifted his first Claret Jug in five years.
Age: 34. WR: 1.
Form going in: For the first time in his professional career Woods will tee off at the Open without a win this season. Has played six events since his self-enforced exile and his only top 10 finishes have come at the Masters and the US Open.
Private life: Woods is believed to be separated from his wife, after an extra-marital scandal which has featured multiple mistresses coming forward. Woods has been receiving therapy for sex addiction. Last week he spent three days with his children, daughter Sam, 3, and son Charlie, 1.
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