The skill and in­scrutabil­ity of Tiger Woods.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - RE­VIEW BY CHUCK CULPEPPER Chuck Culpepper is a Washington Post sports­writer fo­cus­ing on U.S. col­lege sports and international sports. He has cov­ered 33 golf ma­jors, in­clud­ing seven of Woods’s 14 tri­umphs, for eight pub­li­ca­tions.

It’s hard to know whether to give the co-au­thors of “Tiger Woods” an ap­prov­ing re­view or a con­sol­ing hug. Their task was in­tim­i­dat­ing: to il­lu­mi­nate a sub­ject who spent decades ply­ing his con­sid­er­able in­tel­li­gence into re­lent­less opac­ity and man­u­fac­tured dull­ness. One might pic­ture these two su­perla­tive re­porters, Jeff Bene­dict and Ar­men Keteyian, crawl­ing across vast bad­lands of bland­ness, writhing for morsels of in­sight. Some­one should have handed them a can­teen.

They even ap­par­ently — this is almost un­speak­able — read through years and years of Woods’s news con­fer­ence tran­scripts, vol­umes of the least-de­scrip­tive, least-in­for­ma­tive English yet ut­tered. You hope they never did this while op­er­at­ing heavy ma­chin­ery.

Their ac­count of this sports gi­ant thus is a sto­ry­telling feat born of un­fath­omable toil. Bene­dict and Keteyian culled crumbs from nu­mer­ous jour­nal­ists and from a heap of Woods books by Earl Woods (Tiger’s fa­ther), Hank Haney (for­mer swing coach), Steve Wil­liams (for­mer caddy), Woods him­self and oth­ers, and they per­formed their own ex­cel­lent reporting for what feels like a book of record.

Star­ing down high hur­dles, the au­thors de­liver lush de­tail, from a de­pic­tion of the walls of Woods’s kin­der­garten to his “dimly lit” room on the eve of the mag­i­cal 2000 U.S. Open. They check Mex­i­can di­vorce records early in the story to sur­mise how Earl Woods’s first wife came to ac­cuse him of bigamy; they tell of the fan­tas­tic chicken dish Tiger Woods’s mother cre­ated when the teenage golfer’s first girl­friend vis­ited, and the beam­ing face of his mother at his very pri­vate wed­ding in 2004 in Bar­ba­dos. The au­thors de­scribe how Los An­ge­les sports­caster Jim Hill re­acted at his first sight of a 2-year-old with a gor­geous swing, how Woods drove hastily to a first din­ner with Arnold Palmer and how he con­nected as a col­le­gian with the great foot­ball coach Bill Walsh. We are rein­tro­duced to the song he played in the car af­ter win­ning the Masters at 21 in 1997: Quad City DJ’s “C’mon N’ Ride It (the Train).”

Bene­dict and Keteyian pro­vide a ca­pa­ble ex­pla­na­tion of an en­dur­ing puz­zle: Why did Woods get mar­ried, any­way? They of­fer an en­thralling de­scrip­tion of when Woods switched golf ball brands: his sud­den call from Texas to Ore­gon that prompted a Nike hon­cho to con­tact Ja­pan to get balls to a first tee in Ger­many. It is an achieve­ment to cap­ti­vate read­ers with a story about some­thing as stul­ti­fy­ing as golf equip­ment.

The book also ex­cels at de­bunk­ing, in­clud­ing the long-ac­cepted no­tion that Woods long ago set him­self the goal of ex­ceed­ing Jack Nick­laus’s 18 ma­jor ti­tles, which wasn’t ex­actly true, and a story Woods and his fa­ther used to tell about a racist at­tack Woods suf­fered at a tree dur­ing kin­der­garten, which the au­thors found was prob­a­bly con­cocted.

Many de­tails will be il­lu­mi­nat­ing, ex­cept to the most knowl­edge­able of Woods stu­dents: his kin­der­garten shy­ness, his stut­ter ex­cept when talk­ing to the fam­ily re­triever, his semi-geeky teenage self-im­age, his coldly in­ept breakup with his first girl­friend dur­ing col­lege, his stag­ger­ing hand-eye co­or­di­na­tion that al­lowed him im­me­di­ate mas­tery of spearfish­ing, the puerile hu­mor he car­ried well into his wom­an­iz­ing days, his dis­gust­ing mis­treat­ment of a Masters rental house, his tak­ing of the call in the wee hours about his fa­ther’s death while with one of his abun­dant other women (first re­vealed in Mark Seal’s two-part Vanity Fair story in 2010).

The au­thors don’t shy from big ques­tions, ei­ther. For in­stance, what con­sti­tutes suc­cess­ful par­ent­ing? “While Earl’s meth­ods for in­still­ing ex­treme mental tough­ness in his child prodigy are open to ques­tion­ing,” Bene­dict and Keteyian write, “Tiger did end up with an in­de­fati­ga­ble will.” How much should the so­cial mores Woods wouldn’t or couldn’t master, such as say­ing hello or thank you, or send­ing con­do­lences, mat­ter vs. the con­tri­bu­tions so many of us ad­mired? “As a hu­man be­ing,” the au­thors ob­serve, “he might not have been lov­able — or even lik­able — but as a per­former, he pos­sessed un­sur­passed tal­ents that he honed through a life­time of prac­tice. On Sun­day af­ter­noons he shared his gifts with mil­lions, en­abling them to fight re­al­ity and vi­car­i­ously ex­pe­ri­ence thrills that were more ex­hil­a­rat­ing than any­thing felt in a church pew.”

Then there’s the Rhode Is­land story. That’s the one in which Woods won his se­cond straight U.S. Ama­teur in 1995 in New­port, and Earl Woods, li­ba­tions roam­ing his blood­stream, said of one of golf ’s Rush­more fig­ures: “How do you like this, Bobby Jones? A black man is the best golfer who ever lived,” and then, “Bobby Jones can kiss my son’s black ass.” A reporter heard the re­marks at the time but found them too po­ten­tially dam­ag­ing to pub­li­cize, given that the 19-year-old ama­teur hadn’t ut­tered them him­self. Yet some of us might ob­serve the racial his­tory of the Masters that Jones co-founded and think: Say it, Earl.

The book more than re­cov­ers from a first-chap­ter clunk — “The best place to start is the be­gin­ning” — with beau­ti­ful pas­sages such as this, from Woods’s first PGA Tour drive at age 16 in Los An­ge­les: “He held his form un­til the ball dropped from the sky 280 yards away. A col­lec­tive roar echoed from the crowd.” The book man­ages the hard art of in­fus­ing sus­pense into tales with known out­comes, such as the merry, har­row­ing trip of Woods’s 15-foot putt on the 72nd hole of the 2008 U.S. Open. The au­thors chart Woods’s im­plau­si­ble mas­tery of a pre­cise sport along­side dire phys­i­cal pain, par­tic­u­larly in 2007-08, when he won at unimag­in­able rates (in­clud­ing two ma­jor tour­na­ments) with a with­ered knee lig­a­ment and two tib­ial stress frac­tures.

De­spite its oc­ca­sional blips, Bene­dict and Keteyian have turned out a book of sur­pass­ing qual­ity against un­told odds. One might wish the au­thors ap­plause but, above all, a nap.

CHUCK BUR­TON/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Tiger Woods plays in the first round of the Wells Fargo Cham­pi­onship at the Quail Hol­low Club in Char­lotte this month.

By Jeff Bene­dict and Ar­men Keteyian Simon & Schus­ter. 490 pp. $30

TIGER WOODS

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