COMMENTARY | Did Tiger Woods lie at the Players Championship?
No, not about his drop on the 14th hole during the final round; that's a different argument for a different day.
This is about "The Incident."
Let's set the scene: It's the third round of the Players Championship. Woods and his playing partner, Sergio Garcia, have 37 holes and one shot under their belts so far. Woods, who has been working the ball beautifully all week, misses one left into the gallery amongst the trees. Garcia does not. He's positioned beautifully on the right side of the fairway on the par-5 second hole at TPC Sawgrass, away by a yard, according to the PGA Tour's Shot Tracker, and therefore, the first to play.
As Garcia prepares himself, Woods is languishing in a sea of spectators, clearing room for his next shot. Once a human V is made around Woods and his preferred line, he assesses his options. He sees an opening and believes that he can hit a 5-wood up near the green. He pulls his club, almost out of habit as he continues to plot his upcoming shot in his head, mumbling yardage numbers and wind direction and ball flight when sporadic cheering comes from the spectators surrounding him.
Momentarily knocked out of his supreme focus, Woods realizes the applause is for his club choice -- one that indicates to the crowd he is going for the par-5 green in two. Woods, now aware of his misstep, attempts to quiet the crowd by putting a finger to his lips and pointing toward his playing partner who, unbeknownst to Woods, has just struck his second shot. Woods refocuses himself and goes back to crunching numbers.
Meanwhile, Garcia's second shot is right going righter. He looks in Woods' direction -- still holding his follow-through -- with an expression somewhere between disbelief and disgust.
The two continue playing under ominous skies until play is called due to weather five holes later. During the nearly two-hour rain delay, Garcia makes his gripe with Woods known, insinuating in a Golf Channel interview that Woods pulled his club as an act of gamesmanship to mess with the Spaniard.
Asked about Garcia's comments following the round, Woods said he was aware of what was said and noted that a marshal told him that Garcia had already played his shot.
The duo's past and disdain for one another made news as the incident on the second hole played the role of reignitor of the imbroglio.
The next layer of the story came out Monday, long after Woods had already raised the crystal trophy above his head. SI.com's Michael Bamberger talked to a pair of marshals who were working the second hole Saturday when "The Incident" took place.
The chief of marshals for the first three holes, John North, stood over Woods' ball after it came to rest off the tee to protect it from the stampede of fans hoping to get within an arm's reach of Woods.
Questioned about the truth of Woods' assertion that marshals had told him Garcia had played his shot prior to Woods pulling a club, North said, "Nothing was said to us and we certainly said nothing to him.
"I was disappointed to hear him make those remarks. We're there to help the players and enhance the experience of the fans. He was saying what was good for him. It lacked character."
(North's comments have since been refuted by another marshal who admitted to telling Woods that Garcia had hit, although Woods had already pulled his club.)
Later, on Sunday afternoon, North, a graduate of the Naval Academy and Vietnam War veteran, sat watching the television broadcast from a military appreciation tent. With Woods and Garcia coming down the stretch, North said of Woods, "I hate to say it, but I was rooting for him. It tears me apart. But when he's winning ..."
But when he's winning. When he's winning, we set aside our personal grievances or feelings toward Woods the man and embrace the greatness that is Woods the golfer.
Perhaps it's part of the American psyche to place athletes up on pedestals, hoping and wishing for them to be something better than themselves, more than mortal. We want to be a part of history; it's exhilarating and memorable. We want to say, "I was there when…"
That's how North felt watching the greatest golfer of this generation Sunday afternoon, not yet 24 hours since Woods, in North's opinion, lied for his own personal gain, and in essence, threw North and his marshals under the bus.
But that's what greatness does to people in the moment. It encapsulates us; that as by a matter of proximity, we were a part of something great as well.
And sure, after the trophy's been given out and Woods has flown his private jet back to his mansion on the water in his gated community you might feel a little dirty, a little let down or disappointed in yourself for casting aside your morals to embrace something bigger than yourself.
After all, it's just sports. It's just a man hitting a ball, right?
Yes, that's true, but you know, next week, next month or next year, you're going to be rooting for Tiger Woods to do something great again just so you can say, "I was there when…"
Chris Chaney is a Cincinnati, Ohio-based sportswriter. He has written for multiple outlets including WrongFairway.com, Hoopville.com, The Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer and The Clermont (OH) Sun.
Follow him on Twitter @Wrong_Fairway.
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- Tiger Woods