Tiger Woods proved he can still be his old self – and isn’t that what we want?
ORLANDO, Fla. – The book on Tiger Woods’ downfall has been written. It’s called “The Big Miss,” by former swing coach Hank Haney. It comes out Tuesday.
Do we even need to read it?
Sunday’s emphatic win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational did two things for the former No. 1 golfer in the world: It showed that his career no longer is in a desperate freefall, and it shows that we may have found a saturation point in Tiger bashing.
The sight of Tiger Woods on the 18th green, flashing a huge smile and lifting his cap toward the sky, may have signaled a sea change in how the scandal-besmirched golfer is viewed. It’s possible the worst now has passed – and that the final thunderclap of doom has sounded with this book.
Maybe, finally, enough is enough.
After all, what will we really learn in Haney’s scathing tell-all about his former client? Tiger Woods is cold. We knew that. He’s cheap. We knew that. He wasn’t a good husband all the time. We sure knew that. And he was as reckless in his rehab as he was in his personal life – chasing Navy SEALs training as ardently as he chased women. The book suggests an ACL injury Woods allegedly sustained in training in 2007 may have imperiled his shot at Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.
We did not know that. But we did know Tiger has had knee issues since well before 2007. He had problems with his left knee going all the way back to 1994, when he was in college. Those knees – under that kind of constant torque – were bound to break down. Whether lifting or training worsened the issue is somewhat less crucial now that he has won a tournament. He has returned to winning form – albeit not 2001 form. He’s playing well enough that it’s clear his dark years have not completely destroyed his career. He still is able to put together four strong rounds and win on Sunday.
That’s the story right now. Not the book.
Granted, the ’90s love affair with Woods never will return. The idea that he will become friendly and jovial in midlife is folly. He’s still a robot, still stridently closed off. He is less likely than ever to talk about anything other than golf. And after what Steve Williams has said and after what Haney has written, can you blame him? Perhaps, if anything, Woods should have been even more suspicious. “Privacy” – the name of his yacht – should have been even more of a policy.
But his detachment from the media, the fans and really anything public no longer is a point of frustration. It’s a point of fact. And that could allow the adoration of his golf game to resume – starting in Augusta next month.
Recently ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi – a nice guy if ever there was one – asked Tiger what the difference was between himself and his opponents when he was at the top of his game.
Tiger’s answer: “The score.”
Funny? Sorta. Rude? Yeah. Typical? Absolutely. Tiger never is going to give a great answer. He’s not going to open up. He came off the course after his first PGA Tour win in 30 months and called his emotion “pure joy.” That seemed human – almost vulnerable. Then he said “pure joy” to another reporter, and another, and a gaggle of reporters, and then to Rinaldi. He must have said it five times or more. And then suddenly “pure joy” doesn’t feel like pure joy. It feels less like joy, and a lot less pure.
For years, this was aggravating. Now it’s just … Tiger.
The hard truth is that a lot of Haney’s book is just an echo of a prior publication – Charles P. Pierce’s 1997 profile of Woods in GQ Magazine. You’ll recall Woods was quoted telling off-color jokes, commenting about women and dishing about guy stuff like cars and video games. He was a cad back then, he remained a cad and he’s a cad in this new book. That storyline has more or less run its course. Now it could be time to find out whether the cad can come all the way back.
Let’s not forget the blessings that come with the curse. The maniacal devotion to training revealed in Haney’s book? Surely that has something to do with how Woods was able to rebuild his knees and his swing and return to the winner’s circle. His inability to relax – to reflect on his life and his personality? We sure love that single-mindedness when he’s making a Sunday charge. How many of us, if faced with his situation in 2009, would have taken the millions and vanished? How many of us simply would have written a book of our own?
Tiger did not. He did what he had to do to get through the scandal and return to the course as quickly as he could. Was it healthy? Doubtful. But was anyone on the course at Bay Hill complaining? No. Did anyone mind Sunday when Tiger stared straight ahead all day like Mike Tyson in his prime? Of course not. Fans would be far more upset if he giggled through the round and shot 80.
Tiger just wants to play golf. He wants to win. He does not want to give you a popsicle. He does not want to wait while you finish your meal. He does not want to give Ian Poulter a jet ride back home.
And he does not want to tell the full truth about his anguish – physical, emotional, marital or otherwise. He might want to speak, but he doesn’t want to talk.
And that’s OK.
At this point, closer to the end of his career than the beginning, it’s time to appreciate Tiger Woods for what he is: an otherworldly golfer with a very terrestrial personality.
His father, Earl, once famously said of Tiger: “The world will be a better place to live in by virtue of his existence.”
Uh, that is not likely to happen. It’s not even a sure thing that Tiger will end up bringing more minorities into golf the way we all assumed he would. The door has all but slammed shut on Tiger Woods changing society.
But hey, that’s OK, too. He still has given us more thrills than just about any other athlete we have seen. Sunday he gave us one more. Perhaps there is a renaissance brewing – a real one. Perhaps Tiger will give us a Jack Nicklaus at Augusta in ’86 moment. Perhaps one day he’ll build a hospital like Arnold Palmer did, where the next Tiger Woods will be when his children are born. There is time for Woods in his career, and time for Woods in his life.
For now, Tiger and the fans seem to want one thing: more golf. That’s all we’re going to get, and that may be the best possible outcome for all involved.
The book on Tiger Woods’ downfall comes out Tuesday. We always will have it for easy reference.
But we will not always have Tiger.
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