Tuesday, April 5, 2011

This Masters Reminds Us of the Strange Road of Tiger Woods

Hey all! It's Masters week, and lucky for you, that means you get some commentary from people that are better writers than I. Today, we get a piece from Ryan Wilson, an old coworker of mine from the AOL Fanhouse days, and currently the editor of Steelers Lounge, a fun Pittsburgh Steelers blog. You can also find Ryan Wilson at NBC:Connecticut. Enjoy!

At various points in my life, probably going back to high school, I've occasionally wondered what I'd be doing in the future -- five to 10 years from that moment. Most of us have done it in one form or another.

A decade ago I was in graduate school, thinking I'd one day be a professor of something or other, living out my days doing research and teaching eager college kids. Didn't happen. I ended up with a real job and through a series of events nobody could have predicted, I ended up blogging full-time from 2007 until last month.

Weird how things work.

Weirder: what has happened to Tiger Woods in the last 10 years. He's a big reason I started following golf closely. I think a lot of people would tell you the same thing. And in 2001, he was fresh off one of the most speculator stretches in golf. He won the 1999 PGA Championship by imposing his will on a then-overmatched Mike Weir and managing to hold off some teenage phenom named Sergio Garcia.

Woods won eight times that year before getting serious in 2000, winning three majors. His performance at Pebble Beach that June was the single-most dominant 72 holes of golf I have ever witnessed. It was complete domination by a 24-year-old at the top of the game, and the "everybody else is playing for 2nd place" cliche turned out to be more an Earl Woods prophesy that everybody bought into.

During that time I remember thinking about what Tiger would accomplish in his career, things like when he would pass Jack in all-time major championship victories, whether he would ever again miss another cut, and when he got his swing exactly like he wanted it, what sort of damage he might inflict on the rest of the tour. The only way Woods might not achieve all this, I thought, was through a freakish chain of events that nobody saw coming. A deranged fan who gave him the Nancy Kerrigan treatment, for example. Or worse: an airplane disaster like the one that claimed Payne Stewart.

Morbid? Yeah. But with how Woods was playing, and the focus with which he was doing it, it would have to take a random accident to derail what he had spent a lifetime perfecting. And then it happened: Tiger, behind the wheel of his Escalade, took out a tree and a fire hydrant in his Isleworth neighborhood on Thanksgiving night 2009.

He only suffered superficial injuries, but the circumstances of his accident eventually led to the unraveling of his personal life. His professional life wasn't far behind. The dude had a knack for sexing up tons of women, none of them named Elin, many of them porn stars. An image that took nearly 30 years to craft was destroyed in the time it took People to post a voicemail Tiger sent one of his ladyfriends imploring her to take his name off her phone.

So instead of cementing his place as the best golfer ever to walk the earth, Tiger was in hiding. Allegedly working out his issues at a sex rehab facility in Alabama, taking a break from golf, and now estranged from his wife and two young kids. And when he finally returned to the course, he was just another guy. Sure, he looked like Tiger, and had many of the same mannerisms, but he wasn't the golfer who dominated the sport for nearly 12 years. He was more appreciative of the opportunities, nicer to fans, less likely to throw clubs or curse after a poor shot -- all the coping mechanisms you learn through therapy after getting punched in the nuts by reality's Hulk fists.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of Tiger's return to golf following that four-month self-imposed exile to get the rest of his life in order. During his hiatus I wrote that his professional accomplishments were mind-blowing given that he was basically a part-timer. Because, really, there is no way to juggle nearly 20 women -- including his wife -- and concentrate on your day job. Maybe that's why Tiger's game had slipped in 2009. Or maybe it was the knee surgery that kept him out for the last half of 2008. Or maybe it was a combination of the two.

Whatever, I'm pretty sure the 2001 Woods, when thinking about what he'd be doing in 10 years, couldn't have dreamt up the late-2009 realities, even if he was out of his mind on Ambien.

He now makes his way to Augusta as the No. 7 ranked player in the world behind the likes of Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Philbert Mickelson, Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell and Paul Casey. Seriously, write that script and you get laughed out of the pitch meeting. Yet here we are.

In years past, Woods would have already proven his doubters wrong. Now he appears to be be one of them. For people who have watched Tiger for 15 years now, it's a hard concept to wrap your head around. Of course, if Woods wins this week, he'll catapult back atop the world rankings. Pre-2009, I would have had very little trouble believing Tiger, even without his best game, could will himself around Augusta hitting improbable approach shots and draining "no way in hell that finds the hole" putts. Not this time, though. Turns out, Tiger's human like the rest of us.

There will come a time -- who knows when -- that Wood regains his form. For now, his best bet might be to build a time machine, and replay the last 18 months of his life over.

Getty Images


John said...

No doubt that 10, 5, or even 2 years ago Tiger wouldn't have predicted that he would be in this spot. If so, I doubt that he would have continued that behavior. However, I don't buy that he was dominant because he was dominant; that he stayed on top because he stayed on top. Your article seems to say that he was on top because he had some air of dominance. You don't win the US Open by 15 shots because everyone else is afraid of you. He was the only player under par because he was swinging well and putting well. Confidence is a factor, but you've still got to hit the ball.

Anonymous said...

Tiger will be back! Just you wait!

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