For as long as we've known him, Tiger Woods did what he wanted to do. He controlled all things: where he played, what he said, what you could ask him, what others said about him, where his golf ball went. Now everything is different. Rory McIlory talked a little smack about Woods's game the other day. Tiger's golf ball has a mind of its own. His marriage has ended in divorce, and it's hard to imagine that's what Woods wanted. For 15 years now, Woods has held all the cards. And now he doesn't. Monday's announcement was the ultimate proof of that.
\nTiger earned his power, by virtue of 14 major titles and 71 PGA Tour titles. But after a while, too much power in the hands of one person is never good. Woods has abused his power, and now he's more like us. He needs other people.
\nWhen Woods made his first public remarks after his November fire hydrant incident in January, in front of the blue curtains, at the PGA Tour headquarters it seemed pretty apparent that he still thought he could get his marriage back on track. Back then, he didn't "rule out" returning to the PGA Tour this year. His marriage and his family were his first priority, he said, and the implication was that he was going to stay away from golf until he fixed the problems at home. He was back for the Masters. You knew then what was going on: he couldn't fix the problems.
\nAt that Masters, he finished in a tie for fourth. His game was ragged and crooked. Still, only three finished ahead of him. You expected a win was coming, right? At Pebble, or St. Andrews, or somewhere, right? Since Augusta, his golf has only become worse.
\nWoods talked this year about his plan to play his way onto the Ryder Cup team. It sounded like the old Woods confidence, and he was the kind of athlete who could always back up the things he was saying with his shots. Except this time. After the PGA, we knew he'd need to be a captain's pick to make the team, and at the PGA he essentially asked for a spot.
\nDivorce is going to be hard for Woods. He's a perfectionist, and now he's failed at marriage. You know he'll do whatever he has to do to make sure he can be the best father he can be. He's not going to be an absentee father. His model, his father Earl, was around all the time. But Tiger will likely have to pick and choose his spots, in consultation with Elin.
\nOf course, this can be a fresh start for Woods, but not quite yet. He caused a lot of pain, but he must be in great pain, too. What we're interested in and what he's interested in are two different things. We want to know whether he's going to work with Sean Foley, whether he'll make the Ryder Cup team, whether he'll win the Masters come April. Those are secondary questions for him. What can golf mean for him right now? Not what it once did.
\nAt the Masters, I asked his agent, Mark Steinberg, "What is Tiger playing for now?" The pause was long. He finally said, "His kids. His family."
\nLots of people who know Woods have told me that his competitive fire burns so deep that there is no question that he'll do whatever it takes, in terms of putting in the work, to get his form back. I don't think so. Woods's greatness was built on talent, of course, and a work ethic the likes of which golf has never seen before. What's going to be Tiger's drive now? He doesn't have anything to prove to himself as a golfer. His kids won't care whether he ever wins another major or not. No matter how much money this divorce costs him, he'll still have more money than he'll ever need. It's not a question of whether he'll log the range time. He'll put in the hours. But the need to be great at golf? I just don't see how it will ever be what it was when he and Earl were figuring out things for the first time. You can't turn back the clock.
\nWhen Woods was getting clobbered in the tabloids and on the Internet day after day, all the PR consultants were loading Tiger up with free advice, about how he should do Oprah and Larry King and all the rest. Woods has said almost nothing, and it had nothing to do with his endorsement potential. He stayed quiet, I'm guessing, because anything he said his kids would someday hear about. I think he's been trying to protect their privacy, as best he can, from the day we started to learn what Tiger's private life was like. He and Elin continued that Monday in their joint and civil statement. They're putting their kids first.
\nAhead of golf, endorsements, PR considerations and anything else. You can only have one highest priority. And for Tiger, it's not golf, not anymore.