Time to save Tiger Woods from more than him­self

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - SPORTS -

I feel sorry for Tiger Woods.

I never thought I would write those words. Never. Ever.

For the early part of his ca­reer, I never thought there would be the need. For starters, there was that ob­scene amount of ath­letic tal­ent, maybe the most in the his­tory of pro­fes­sional golf. Yes, Tiger could drive for show. But he could also chip and putt for dough. We may never again wit­ness a more com­plete pack­age of skill and guile and golf guts than Eldrick Tont Woods in his youth­ful prime.

Then there was the charisma and the charm on those oc­ca­sions he let the world see them. Oh, he could be grumpy and aloof, border­ing on rude and crude. The ex­ple­tives oc­ca­sion­ally would fly, some­times sail­ing right be­side his of­fend­ing driver or 2 iron.

But he had a smile that be­longed in a Pep­so­dent tooth­paste com­mer­cial and a brain good enough to at­tend Stan­ford. And all those at­tributes had his net worth soaring to­ward $1 bil­lion un­til Thanks­giv­ing of 2009.

That, of course, was the night Woods drove into a dif­fer­ent kind of wa­ter haz­ard — a fire hy­drant — in a failed at­tempt to es­cape his wife’s un­der­stand­able wrath af­ter she found out he wasn’t quite the lov­ing, faith­ful hus­band she thought he was.

Elin’s even­tual de­ci­sion to di­vorce Woods for his nu­mer­ous in­dis­cre­tions — they ap­par­ently num­bered more than the 61 strokes he used to com­plete a PGA Tour round on four dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions — mo­men­tar­ily wrecked that $1 bil­lion march. Poor, poor Tiger. Forbes’ lat­est es­ti­ma­tion of his worth stands at just un­der $750 mil­lion. And that’s with him hav­ing failed to win any PGA tour­na­ment, much less adding to his 14 ma­jor ti­tles, since 2014.

That’s not why I feel sorry for him to­day, how­ever. The cheat­ing on Elin and his chil­dren were self-in­flicted wounds, a com­mon oc­cur­rence among the rich and fa­mous.

I might even ad­mit to feel­ing that Tiger’s col­lapse since that Thanks­giv­ing night nearly eight years ago was some­what de­served — karma for be­ing a cad.

But that was be­fore Tiger’s mug shot fol­low­ing an early Mon­day morn­ing DUI ar­rest in Jupiter, Fla., was made pub­lic. Be­fore the sunken, soul­less eyes, three-day-old beard and un­kempt, thin­ning hair made me do a triple take.

This was the face of a man to be pitied more than pil­lo­ried. This was, hope­fully, rock bot­tom for a man once thought to be the most rock-solid ath­lete of his gen­er­a­tion.

Only now the story of that Me­mo­rial Day morn­ing ar­rest has got­ten worse, much worse. For while Woods was cor­rect in his Mon­day night state­ment that no al­co­hol was in­volved, he was messed up enough on drugs that when he was found passed out in his car with the en­gine run­ning at 3 a.m., and the police woke him up to ask him where he’d been and where he was go­ing, he an­swered “L.A.” and “Orange County.”

And, no, we don’t think he meant Lower Alabama and Orange County, Fla.

In­stead, we think the four back surg­eries and the di­vorce and the sud­den re­al­iza­tion for the 41-year-old Woods that life for a pro­fes­sional golfer — or any other ath­lete — rarely be­gins at 40 has taken its toll on both his body and mind.

So per­haps the pain he’s dulling with pre­scrip­tion medicine isn’t only the phys­i­cal kind. Per­haps his mind aches. And his heart. And his con­science. Time may stop for no one, but too much time on one’s hands can be a ter­ri­ble thing for a tor­tured soul.

But all that’s for doc­tors and psy­chi­a­trists and friends and loved ones to sort through.

For ev­ery­one else, given that there ap­par­ently was fresh dam­age and two flat tires on his car, there’s the sober­ing re­al­iza­tion that but for the grace of a higher power, Woods might eas­ily have harmed far more than his reel­ing rep­u­ta­tion early Mon­day morn­ing. He could have se­ri­ously in­jured an­other per­son or mul­ti­ple peo­ple. In­jured them or worse.

So while it was touch­ing to see the great­est golfer of them all, Jack Nick­laus, say of Woods on Tues­day, “He needs our help,” the rest of us need some­thing else.

We need his car keys taken from him un­til or un­less he not only knows whether he’s trav­el­ing in Florida or Cal­i­for­nia, but also knows al­ways to re­main clean and sober wher­ever he’s go­ing when he’s driv­ing

Be­cause no mat­ter how sorry I feel for Tiger, it’s nowhere near as sorry as we should all feel if he hurts some­one other than him­self the next time he passes out be­hind the wheel at 3 a.m., 3 p.m., or any time in be­tween.

Con­tact Mark Wied­mer at mwied­mer@times­freep­ress.com.

Mark Wied­mer

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