Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tiger at The Masters will be fascinating, but one event will prove little

It was hardly a surprise yesterday when Tiger Woods announced he was going to return to competitive golf at The Masters. It also wasn’t a surprise that his announcement was greeted with only slightly more zeal than when man first landed on the moon a little more than 40 years ago.

In the end, the only thing different in this than what most of us expected is that he’s not going to play a warm-up tournament prior to The Masters. I had thought back in December that he would come back this month and play Doral and Bay Hill or, at the very least, Bay Hill, and then head to Augusta. Maybe he’s skipping a warm-up to show people how much he cares about Doing The Right Thing.

If truth be told I kind of doubt that’s the case. What I think is happening here is pretty simple: Tiger wants to come back in the most controlled environment possible (control is the most important word in his life) and there’s nothing that beats Augusta when it comes to control. You can bet there won’t be any paparazzi on the grounds or reporters from gossip magazines or web sites. If one does slip through, he or she will be escorted out very firmly and quickly.

Augusta is also the only golf tournament in the world that allows no media—or photographers—inside the ropes. That won’t stop the media or the shooters from following Tiger’s group, but they won’t be able to get very close and Tiger won’t have to look any of them in the eye even for a split second.

Plus, there’s this: Tiger came back from his first knee surgery of 2008 to play the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines without a warm-up event. We all know what happened there. This is a little different because back then he was still having trouble walking 18 holes right up until the first day of The Open. This time the option not to play is purely his. Still, what happened at the Open is no doubt fueling his belief that he can walk onto Augusta National without having hit a ball in competition in five months and win the tournament.

Are you prepared to bet against him? I’m not. The reason the whole world comes to a halt every time Tiger opens his mouth—or puts out a statement that seems to come from his mouth—is because he’s done superhuman things on golf courses for 14 years now. One of his great strengths as a golfer is his selfishness: he will be able to walk inside those ropes and be completely focused from the first tee forward. His life is about two things first and foremost: going down as the greatest golfer of all time and as the richest athlete of all time.

He became the first to cross the billion-dollar plateau last year although this episode has certainly set him back financially. The goal to pass Jack Nicklaus in major wins is still out there and he’ll likely go past Nicklaus at some point in the near future—two, three, four years whatever---he’ll get the record.

When he does a lot of the apologists will say he’s wiped what happened these past few years completely away. There are plenty already saying that: it is no one’s business; they don’t care what he does as long as he plays golf. I have no problem with those who feel that way. But to think this disappears under a barrage of birdies and Tiger fist-pumps is foolish.

I said this before, I’ll say it again: Monica Lewinsky is part of Bill Clinton’s biography no matter how many billions he raises for relief efforts around the world. (Slightly more important work than winning golf tournaments for those of you scoring at home). This will be part of Tiger’s biography if he wins 30 majors. Whether it is our business or not, he lied to and cheated on his wife repeatedly; he stonewalled (and is still stonewalling) about what happened that led to his outing and at least so far, hasn’t shown any signs of real remorse. If you bought into that staged Tiger and Pony show last month, fine, I have some stock in Bernie Madoff’s company I can sell you at a great price.

Honestly, at this point, I don’t care if he ever answers questions. I don’t think he will or, if he does in some form, he’ll never tell the whole truth. Fine. Frankly, I’m bored with it and I think most people are bored with it. But I WILL be interested to see how he behaves on the golf course.

Tom Watson said what a lot of people in golf have thought for years a couple of months ago when he called Tiger out for his on-course behavior. He noted that there is a difference between being a great player and a great champion. He’s right and I think Tiger knows he’s right. I think that’s why he mentioned that he needed to show more respect for the game during the T+P show.

If anything good can come of this it would be to see a new Tiger on the golf course. That’s not a reference to his game but to his personality. If he stops the club-slamming and the profanity and the club-tossing and the constant grimaces and tells his caddy to behave civilly to people, that will be huge progress. It will also be an indication that maybe he has given some thought to something other than trying to steer his way around the wreckage he has created so he can get back to playing golf.

One other thing: While the world will watch with rapt attention during Masters week—one can only imagine what the TV ratings will be—that week won’t prove anything at all. If he comes back and wins or seriously contends, well, he’s still Tiger Woods, most talented player of all time. If he misses the cut (unlikely) that doesn’t mean he’s not Tiger Woods. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open in 2006 seven weeks after his father died and then came back to win the British Open and The PGA Championship soon after that.

If he behaves impeccably between the ropes, that’s great—see if he can maintain it. And if he behaves poorly, well, he deserves some time to try to adapt to forming new habits. The Masters will be fascinating but, in the end, it will prove little.

After Augusta he’s going to have to make his way in something a little closer to the real world: tournaments that can’t and won’t control his environment the way the Lords of Augusta do. This is going to be a long and winding road. The apologists and the Tiger-worshippers will applaud everything he does. Others will never forgive him no matter what he does. The majority, I suspect, will just want to sit back and watch. It promises to be reality TV at its most real.


Anonymous said...

Maybe Team Tiger's great PR strategy has worked....they've worn everyone down enough by hiding, and letting all the wheels spin, that no one really cares anymore? That said, the bulldog mentality of the tabloids will sure make up for the mainstream calming down. TMZ, RadarOnline, National Inquirer (unless Tiger cut another deal with them) and others will be out for blood. Should be an interesting case.

And I agree - he could play brilliantly, or horribly, at The Masters and it will matter none for the long run.

Anonymous said...

"...This will be part of Tiger’s biography if he wins 30 majors..." I disagree somewhat. If he goes on to win 30 majors, this will be a blimp in his biography. Nothing major. Again, he is NOT the first athlete to lie and cheat on his wife repeatedly and will NOT be the last. He has every right to stonewall about what happened as long as it's a personal issue (and last I checked, it was). John, I really have a hard time buying your "anger" about his affairs....why would you be surprised? Seriously? I know I wasn't. You've covered sports far too long to tell me this was shocking. I never once saw any of his commercials (Nike, Gatorade, Gillette or Accenture) and thought "Wow, he's SUCH a faithful guy...I think I'm going to buy that product because he seems like a moral, faithful guy". No, I know better. He's the richest athlete in the world and that's a different deck of cards that he's playing with. Think of any great athlete in any sport and chances are...they've probably strayed from their wife at least once so let's cut the b.s. and get back to playing golf.

Laura's Husband said...

Is ANY of what Tiger has done or is going to do really any of OUR's just something else for us to pass time...we're all just voyeurs

Tim said...

I tend to think when people trade their good name and peddle sales (that's what 'sponsorship' is) to the public for money, it opens a Pandora's box where most everything is the business of the public. If there wasn't a personality, morality and vibe play involved in sponsorship, all contracts for athletes would just lay straight down the line in rankings. But the fact is that personality, morality and ability to peddle product to the public lies both inside and outside the court, lines and rope.

sanford said...

"...This will be part of Tiger’s biography if he wins 30 majors..." I disagree somewhat. If he goes on to win 30 majors, this will be a blimp in his biography. Nothing major. Again, he is NOT the first athlete to lie and cheat on his wife repeatedly and will NOT be the last

First off, no way is he going to win 30. No he is not the first athlete to cheat on his wife. But the big stars in sports, movies etc are always going to get a lot of press when this type of thing happens.

I never once saw any of his commercials (Nike, Gatorade, Gillette or Accenture) and thought "Wow, he's SUCH a faithful guy...I think I'm going to buy that product because he seems like a moral, faithful guy".

While his commercials don't set him self up to be a family or moral guy, a lot of athletes do talk about how important their wife or family is to them and then go out do what Tiger did.

We really shouldn't care about athletes or entertainers private lives. After all what ever they do does not affect us. But it is hard not to be aware of it when it is on talk radio, the internet and tv almost every day.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm still having trouble figuring out what exactly I or any of us should expect from this guy. I don't say this as a critique but as a question, can Tiger really do enough so we all feel he has shown enough remorse or answered all the questions he needs to answer? What else do we really need to know? What exactly does one need to do to show true remorse after such a public family betrayal? I can't argue with you Mr. Feinstein if you feel he hasn't shown enough remorse. In fact I bet I would agree with you. However, what does he need to do to prove he's remorseful? Does he owe any of us that emotion? Again, I ask this because these are still questions I have as a fan of the game and a one time Tiger fan. I don't see myself ever rooting against Tiger but I also know I won't be pulling for him like I once did.

DrBear said...

I think it will draw about the same as Nancy Kerrigan v. Tonya Harding in the Olympics, the last such meeting of sports and superscandal. Why about the same? The skating had the advantage of being (a) in the Olympics and (b) at night on TV. Of course, CBS could start promoting it with “come watch Tiger Woods in a threesome!”

Vince Spence said...

Part of any addiction program is change. You change all bad habits.

Here's hoping...

Anonymous said...

re sanford: I personally don't think he will win 30 majors but he WILL definitely break the 18 major mark..that's for sure. I was simply responding to John's statement of "if" he wins 30. Second, yes the big stars in sports, movies etc always get a lot of press when this type of thing happens but there's a lot of sanctimonious crap going on from all these media people when it comes to Tiger's case when we all know they've either seen this before or have actually done the same thing they are crucifying Tiger for. Yes, a lot of athletes (politicians included) do talk about how important their wife and family is to doesn't mean they don't cheat. Unless you can find me a clip where Tiger or any of these people caught cheating specifically said "I will NEVER cheat on my wife" then all bets are off. I'm a realist and the reality of the matter is that he's worth at least $600 million and gets to travel around the world for his occupation so you do the math. People at his level will more often than not cheat when the opportunity presents itself...simple as that. We need to get back to watching him play golf and stop worrying about who he's sleeping with...that's Elin's issue. I just want to see him back on the golf course...that makes the sport more competitive and much more exciting...period.

jason said...

I think you hit it perfectly with the Tiger and pony show comment John.
Cheetah Woods will no doubt continue going thru half of the club hostess population under the delusion that the public buys his bogus rehab attempt.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Tiger legacy being attached to this. At the same time we wont forget the Hysterical media including Mr. Feinstein talking about his dead father, reporting gossip as facts, and taking modern day so journalism too even lower depths. TMZ is more credible than NYT and the Washington Post.. wow!!

The Media behaved worse than children. At the end of the day, Tiger ignored you did not heed your advise and he's still playing Golf equal Media FAIL.. The Masters will be the Highest Rated Golf program ever.. in 3D...that's what I call a WIN!

Hit 'em straight TW, never mind the HATERS! Slow hand clap begin..bravo!

Gordon said...

I am not a Tiger apologiest by any means but I do think it is time to stop all the hypocrasy.

The PGA tour has, since the days of Hogan and Snead , and probably before been know as P***y Galore Association. Many wives travel with there husbands not because they want to support him on course but because they want to keep an eye on him "off the course" . Tiger is not the first and won't be the last. He's just the most successful golfer who has been caught. In reality Tiger "outed" himself.

And given the statistics the odds are that 50 - 60% percent of those journalists condeming Tiger for cheating are themselves unfaithful.

We don't truly know any of these people. We know what we are allowed to know and usually that is filtered and contrived. IMG is a multi million dollar business that does just that. No wonder tiger is an IMG Client.

Jack was a jerk off the course because of his jealosey of Palmers popularity. Waston didn't exactly wear out many pens signing autographs. And Even the "Merry Mex" was not usually very merry when it came to the fans. And catch Phil away from the cameras and he is very alouf.

Tiger is who he is. For what ever the reason he's held to a different standard. For what ever reason his personality and moral flaws, a kind word, are not overlooked.

The fact is the tour has far more Ernie Els. Kenny Perrys and Rocco Mediates than Tigers.

Tiger is actually an anomoly. Certainly some of his actions are questionable and certainly Stevie Williams is usually way over the line. But at least Tiger does show some emotion.Most everyone else is so robotic.

And what I will remember about Bill clinton is not as much Monica as it is lieing under oath!

Thanks for changing the color not please get us spell check!

Tom Hawley said...

I agree it will be reality television at its best, not that it takes much to exceed the ridiculously low standards that genre of broadcasting has created. I hope Tiger plays well and gives us all the entertainment we've come to expect from him. But imagine this: imagine Sean McManus and the others at CBS if Tiger is on, or one over, the cut line Friday afternoon as he plays his final couple of holes. Can you just hear them on their headsets pleading for him to get up and down for birdie out of the trap on 17 or 18, or praying openly that the cut line drops from even to +1! Or wondering what kind of power they have to magically make that cut line move. I hope for their health's sake he makes the cut more comfortably than that, but just know they're going to bed Thursday night praying 'just make the cut, just make the cut!'

Anonymous said...

I'm a little surprised at how much everyone thinks it's a foregone conclusion that Woods will easily pass Nicklaus's majors win record of 18. To me, it's perhaps an even money bet, at best, and that was before Woods' recent indiscretions, which only muddy the waters further. The record of great golfers winning major tournaments after age 35 is spotty, at least in the last 50 years. Nicklaus won 2 at age 35, then three more after that (including the very rare win at age 46). Palmer also won two at age 35, then 2 more after. Trevino won 3 after age 35, but Watson didn't win any. Gary Player won 4 after 35. Perhaps Woods is more driven than these guys and maybe even a better golfer, but not that much. I can see him pursuing this oft-stated goal of his relentlessly, even if it takes him many years. But I also don't think he will win more than, say, 20 tops, if that many. 2010 may be the key year in his pursuit of the record. He's still only 34 until December, and at least 3 of this year's majors are on golf courses where he's already won majors. If he wins 1 or 2 this year, then I think he will pass Nicklaus, ending up with maybe 20 total. But if he doesn't win any this year, then I would definitely be betting on the "under 18" line.
Discuss amongst yourselves...