Eldrick "Tiger" Woods used to have major game even before EA Sports told the whole world about that.
For instance, as a two-year-old toddler, his father Earl showed off his son's prodigious talents on The Mike Douglas Show in the 1970s, and guests such as the late Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart marveled at the little boy's swinging skill-set.
Years later, he rose on occasion after occasion, winning PGA amateur championships three times in a row, a prelude of better things to come on the pro links tour.
In 1997, Tiger Woods had the Augusta gallery at his feet, taking on both doubters and believers in one solid, mechanic, video game-like swoop from first tee on Thursday to a final round tap-in on Sunday that spring, winning the Masters as a first-year pro in record fashion.
That dominance remained for what seemed like eons, even accruing a media-favorite "Tiger Slam" in the 2000s, looking as if he would always leave golfers such as Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and his arch-rival, Phil Mickelson, in the dust.
Yet who knew that on that fateful Thanksgiving night in 2009 that the Tiger stratosphere would come crumbling down within milliseconds after crashing his Cadillac Escalade into a tree, reportedly trying to avoid his wife's appropriate wrath due to extramarital affairs that were soon to surface thanks to media outlets such as TMZ.
The Cypress, Calif., native then not only unveiled a sordid past involving more than 10 women he cavorted with, but that Tiger "sheen," an image once surfeit with good-natured family values, was gone, too.
Moreover, Tiger's chances of reconciling with his wife, Elin, and retaining joint custody of his kids, Sam and Charlie, because of his inability to keep his player profile absolutely nonexistent and absent from his playing one, evaporated quickly as well.
Now, because of those "transgressions" (one of his favorite words in describing the scandal), he's playing without sponsors like Gatorade and Gillette. (AT&T and Accenture have also either dropped him completely or have not placed his image on full display in their business ventures as before.)
Ratings have also vanished, especially seeing that there's no other super superstar who is as big a ratings magnet as Woods.
(Case in point: At the Bridgestone Invitational tourney, Tiger finished tied for 78th out of 80, and overall TV viewership ratings went down about 50 percent from last year, when Tiger took home his seventh Bridgestone title.)
With players like Y.E. Yang, Hunter Mahan and Louis Oosthuizen, great golfers with not as much exposure on an iconic stature as Tiger's, continuing to win major tournaments over the past year and change, Tiger's infamous dominance—his strength in intimidating others into either simply moving out of his way or erring on the side of hiscaution—no longer seems to exist.
Although he had fourth-place finishes at this year's Masters and U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, his errant game showed up on high-definition at the following tournaments: Quail Hollow in Charlotte, N.C.; the British Open on the Old Course at St Andrews; his eponymous Tiger Woods AT&T National at Aronimink in Pennsylvania; and the Memorial in Muirfield, Ohio—all big stinkers.
At 34, nearing 35 (in December), Tiger's at the point in a pro golfer's passage of time where his peak may have indeed passed him.
Or at least he must realize by now that he'll have to work extremely hard at getting back to that familiar championship level, since the foregone conclusion a decade ago that Tiger (now with 14 PGA major titles) would eclipse the inimitable Jack Nicklaus' 18 may soon look far-fetched.
That is, again, only if Tiger can't clean up his act on and off the course in order to rebound—fast.
With a hefty portion of his Tiger, Inc. fortune gone to an ex-wife who rightly yet hastily said enough is enough (reportedly over $700 million), scores of former fans and media members who have tuned him out already, a late father who cannot physically remove Tiger from his own mess (and a mean, Joan Crawford-like Mommie Dearest mother in Kultida Woods to boot), Tiger's going to have to continue digging his way out of that interminable sand trap he created in the first place.
Whether he's ever able to come out of this mass hysteria as a redemptive man (or even half a man), I think the best thing for Tiger to do, based on his uncharacteristic statistics after that fateful Thanksgiving night, is to just put the clubs down.
In the interim, I'd recommend to Tiger thus:
- Work on recreating your image (again), if that's possible.
- Take a year (or half of one) off to work on your unsteady putt play, your driving inaccuracy.
- Try to resharpen that stone-cold, Green Beret-like compartmentalization, a focus such that a horde of wasps buzzing in your ear wouldn't distract you.
- Maybe, as you've done with your hitting instructors, Butch Harmon and Hank Haney, you'll need to ditch your longtime caddie Steve Williams, too. (Yes, he's been there with you through the good and bad times, but you've left trustworthy associates behind several times.)
Just don't take a wedge and whack it anymore in the rough, so that you can save us the embarrassment in this whirlwind of drama you're still going through right now.
I don't care that your 270 consecutive weeks as numero uno have almost come to a close. That's not as important as getting your head out of your you-know-what.
Nope, no PGA tourney or Ryder Cup for you. Not this year. Like the rapper Eminem, you need to enter the process of (rest and) recovery to prevent a relapse.
We'll all benefit from that strategy in the long run, El Tigre.
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