Sport

His Tour Cham­pi­onship and FedEx Cup re­sults un­der­line that Tiger Woods’ re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion is com­plete.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - by Paul Thomas

Tiger Woods’ Tour Cham­pi­onship win un­der­lines that his re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion is com­plete.

Of all the im­pres­sive num­bers Tiger Woods has racked up, this may be the most re­mark­able: when his se­rial in­fi­delity scan­dal erupted in late 2009, the story was front-page news in the New York Post for 20 con­sec­u­tive days, beat­ing the pre­vi­ous record set fol­low­ing 9/11. Nine years on and given the joy that greeted Woods’ re­cent re­turn to the win­ner’s cir­cle, it’s easy to for­get how dras­tic the re­ac­tion to the scan­dal was; how em­phatic the con­sen­sus that he’d never emerge from the shadow of dis­grace. As one writer put it, Woods would be “in the rough for­ever”.

And with each cock­tail wait­ress or porn star who se­cured her 15 min­utes of fame by adding her­self to the roll-call of Woods’ low-rent ren­dezvous – hence the NYP’s abid­ing in­ter­est – the dis­gust deep­ened and the judg­ments be­came more im­pla­ca­ble. Re­view­ing the me­dia re­ac­tion to his tele­vised pub­lic state­ment two months af­ter the story broke, one could only con­clude that “sorry” is in fact the most in­ef­fec­tual word. Woods said “sorry” sev­eral dozen times but it got him nowhere.

The New York Times de­voted four col­umns to it, all of them archly dis­mis­sive. Three colum­nists felt the apol­ogy didn’t go nearly far enough, the fourth that his pub­lic self-abase­ment was “dis­gust­ing and pa­thetic”. Talk about lose-lose. New Zealan­ders who savour irony had the plea­sure of hear­ing broad­caster Tony Veitch, a con­victed do­mes­tic abuser, an­a­lyse Woods’ state­ment.

When Woods re­sumed his ca­reer at the 2010 Masters, he re­ceived a pub­lic flea in his ear from Au­gusta Na­tional chair­man Billy Payne: “His fu­ture will never again be mea­sured only by his per­for­mance against par, but mea­sured by the sin­cer­ity of his ef­forts to change.” The sin­cer­ity of Au­gusta Na­tional’s ef­forts to change are ap­par­ent in the fact that it didn’t al­low women mem­bers un­til 2012.

The per­cep­tion that, un­til this year’s comeback, it had been all down­hill since 2009, was ev­i­dent in the eu­phoric re­ac­tion to Woods’ vic­tory in the Tour Cham­pi­onship in At­lanta. (His sub­se­quent strug­gles at the Ry­der Cup fol­lowed a

well-estab­lished pat­tern: the fail­ure to make a mark in the bi­en­nial US vs Europe com­pe­ti­tion is a con­spic­u­ous blot on an oth­er­wise im­pec­ca­ble golf­ing CV.)

In fact, he had top-five fin­ishes at both the Masters and the US Open in 2010. In 2012, he won his first tour­na­ment for two years and em­barked on a golden run that was al­most as im­pres­sive as ear­lier hot streaks, although with­out a ma­jor cham­pi­onship: with eight wins and 17 top-10 fin­ishes in 35 tour­na­ments, he pro­pelled him­self back to the top of the world rank­ings, where he re­mained un­til May 2014.

But then he un­der­went a pro­tracted phys­i­cal break­down and the nar­ra­tive as­sumed a Ground­hog Day pre­dictabil­ity: in­jury, surgery, re­hab, re­turn a shadow of for­mer self, re­peat.

While the scan­dal caused an Icarus-like plum­met from grace, 2017 may have felt like rock bot­tom. In May, a golf writer tweeted: “Since the start of 2015 … Tiger Woods top 25 fin­ishes: 4. Tiger Woods back surg­eries: 4.” In June, he was ar­rested for driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence. A sad-sack po­lice mugshot flashed around the world fuelling spec­u­la­tion that he’d be­come addicted to painkillers.

The per­cep­tion of per­sonal and pro­fes­sional free fall was re­in­forced a month later when the for­mer No 1 – for 683 weeks, twice as long as the next best – dropped out of the top thou­sand in the world golf rank­ings.

Many were con­vinced that was that: the Tiger who’d burnt so bright had been re­duced to a pin­prick of re­ced­ing light. But last year’s back surgery, de­scribed as the pro­ce­dure you have when you’ve tried ev­ery­thing else, did the trick.

Whereas pre­vi­ous come­backs have had the feel of slow-mo­tion car crashes, the odd promis­ing cameo amid alarm­ing flame-outs that re­vealed an ath­lete not in con­trol of his body or mind, in 2018 he has been po­tent, re­silient and con­sis­tent. If Justin Rose’s ap­proach shot to the fi­nal hole at the Tour Cham­pi­onship had trav­elled half a me­tre less, Woods might well have also won the FedEx Cup, the glit­ter­ing prize for sea­son-long con­sis­tency. To say there was a lot rid­ing on Rose’s shot is quite the un­der­state­ment: the FedEx Cup win­ner pock­ets US$10 mil­lion, the run­ner-up US$3 mil­lion.

All the in­di­ca­tors – TV au­di­ences, spec­ta­tor num­bers, the rap­tur­ous sup­port, the ex­tra­or­di­nary crowd scenes on the 18th fair­way as he strode to the fi­nal green – sug­gest the “Tiger ef­fect” is as strong as ever. Per­haps his in­jury tor­ment in ef­fect can­celled out the scan­dal in the pub­lic mind, caus­ing dis­dain to give way to sym­pa­thy. What is be­yond doubt is that ev­ery­one who makes money, di­rectly or in­di­rectly, out of the game of golf is thrilled that Tiger’s back.

Per­haps his in­jury tor­ment can­celled out the scan­dal in the pub­lic mind.

Woods with the FedEx Cup in 2009. He also won the tro­phy in 2007.

Back to the fu­ture: Tiger Woods’ 2017 op­er­a­tionwas his last hope.

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