Tiger’s new romance may boost his game

The news that Tiger Woods is “dating” a 22-year-old blonde whom friends describe as a “wild child” (to Radar Online) is, most certainly, legitimate sporting news. It is also, quite possibly, very good news for Tiger’s still sizable fan base.

Save your protests that the guy’s off-course life should remain his own business. In theory, that’s true. In reality, he hasn’t been much of a golfer since the world (most notably, his wife) found out that he was dating half the cocktail waitresses in Las Vegas.

It’s been 16 months and counting since Tiger Woods drove his Cadillac SUV into a fire hydrant and Elin Woods smashed in its windows with a golf club. Since then, there’ve been two stops in rehab, one divorce and zero victories on the golf course.

Tiger Woods was all smiles when jokes were made at his expense in a recent appearance on Jimmy Fallon's late-night talk show.
(Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

Tiger’s private life affected his professional life like few other athletes we’ve ever seen. There’s no way any development isn’t news.

Most of these guys just shrug it all off. San Antonio Spurs star guard Tony Parker had a tabloid affair that caused the breakup of his marriage with Eva Longoria, and not for a night did his game suffer. Kobe Bryant used to attend hearings for a sexual-assault trial in rural Colorado, then jet to Los Angeles that night and play for the Lakers like nothing was wrong. Even Michael Vick merely had to work off the prison rust – not the mental humiliation of running an interstate dog fighting ring – to return to form.

Woods has been the exact opposite since his world came down around him. He can’t find his stroke. He can’t find his confidence. He can’t find a putter to stick with.

Mostly, he can’t find a victory. The once longtime No. 1 golfer in the world is just another guy right now.

The Masters Tournament is two weeks away. Once seemingly inevitable, Tiger’s pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 major championships (Woods has 14) is now hurtling toward unlikely. (He could really, really use a major this year).

The revelation in 2009 of whom Tiger had been dating was the single biggest development in golf since, well, Tiger Woods won the 1997 Masters by 12 strokes at age 21. So now that he’s apparently back on the social scene, if you will, it’s 100 percent worth noting.

No one knows where this budding relationship is headed. We can only wish them the best. Of course, it has all the trappings of a train wreck in progress – she’s rich, she’s young, she parties, she isn’t into long-term relationships, all according to other anonymous “friends.”

Tiger is, well, Tiger. He says he’s a changed man and maybe he is – whatever that means. He’s single. He can do whatever he wants.

What we do know is that Tiger was a lot better golfer when his personal life was a chaotic juggling act filled with women who wouldn’t be described as particularly well-adjusted or mature.

From a strictly professional perspective, the lunacy of trying to maintain dozens of those kinds of girlfriends somehow aided his game – or at least it didn’t derail his game like the apparent straight and narrow path he took after the scandal.

Many have long wondered why Woods didn’t just embrace what he was, apologize for being a lousy husband and father and then move on to a weekend at the MGM Grand. That’s how most celebrities do it. That he couldn’t probably says something positive about him.

Regardless, Tiger fans have been desperate for any sign that he might return to form. They study his swing. They grow encouraged by some solid play. They point to various flashes of brilliance. They hope that time will bring a return to the mental prowess that was so important to his game.

Yet it hasn’t materialized. Woods willed his way to a fourth-place finish in last year’s Masters, somehow turning one of the most pressurized and surreal scenes in golf into a positive. He hasn’t been as good since.

   [ThePostGame: No change in Tiger’s Q ratings]

At age 35, with no signs of consistency or momentum and with another new swing (and swing coach), he heads into the Masters dealing with a slew of new questions.

Is he done as a top contender? What happened to his putting? Is he ever going to return mentally? In light of the pressure that comes when winning a couple more majors isn’t good enough, is the Nicklaus record now an albatross?

So yes, the natural reaction is to not care that Tiger Woods is apparently hanging around a “wild child” 13 years his junior. After all, it looks like a dead-end relationship. It’s probably filed with ridiculous drama. It’s most likely superficial.

In other words, it’s everything we know of his affairs with Jamie Junger, Jaimee Grubbs, the Perkins waitress and so on. Those weren’t so good for his marriage, his endorsement business or – once they were revealed – his state of mind. In the moment though, they sure helped, or at least didn’t hurt, his golf game.

Woods and a 22-year-old party girl? Sounds like something the old Tiger would’ve done. You know, when he was still the best golfer in the world.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Mar 22, 2011