Tiger Woods in a clinic for sex addiction? Not a likely sentence, but real life has a way of playing tricks on you

Thursday January 21st, 2010

Is it Tiger Woods? Your guess is as good as mine. It certainly looks like him. The shiny new sneakers. The little ankle socks. The skinny, almost delicate, forearm. The round, muscular (since 2000) shoulder. The athletic slouch. The effort to conceal himself. (Who wears the hood of a hoodie, over a baseball cap, but not the hoodie itself? In weather warm enough to wear shorts?) The face. Yep.

Tiger Woods in a clinic for sex addiction in Hattiesburg, Miss. Not a likely sentence, but real life has a way of playing tricks on you. Anyway, that's what the National Enquirer is saying. Consider the source. They usually have things dead-to-rights.

There used to be a Tour event played in Hattiesburg opposite the Masters called the Magnolia Classic. I was there once. A hundred and fifty guys playing for a check, huddled around a TV during rain delays, watching the CBS broadcast from Augusta. You finished your work in Hattiesburg and got out of Dodge. Nobody wanted to play Hattiesburg two years in a row, not even the winner. If you won, you figured you'd be playing Augusta 12 months later. Tiger — if it's Tiger — is surely looking to do nearly the same thing. Do his time in Hattiesburg. Get himself to Augusta.

They say it's a six-week program, there at the Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services in Hattiesburg. They say he went in on Dec. 30. If that's correct, he'd be out in mid-February. Roger Federer, a Nike guy like Woods, says he's talked to Woods and expects him to return to golf soon. Sergio Garcia, an IMG guy like Woods, also expects Tiger to be back in the near future. They might know something. A good guess is he'll play Arnold Palmer's tournament at Bay Hill in Orlando, where Woods lives, in late March, and the Masters a couple of weeks later.

The poor bastard, the guy in those Enquirer snaps. He looks like a caged animal. It's hard not to feel sorry for him. Anyone who says Tiger brought his problems on himself is of course correct. You can imagine Elin's pain and embarrassment. But Tiger's whole life looks different since Thanksgiving, or it does to me. I used to watch that clip of li'l Tiger on the Mike Douglas Show and say, "What a swing!" Now I look at it and think, "He was a freak show." A golfing circus act. Jack was a prodigy, too, but he grew up in a different America, with different parents. Don't read too much into this. I don't know what I'm talking about.

He'll come back when he has something to say about his marriage, that they're going to try to make it work, or that it's over. That's why I think Woods hasn't talked. He probably doesn't know the answer yet. Elin's the most powerful person in sports right now. I don't imagine Tiger choosing Hattiesburg on his own. Really, his natural first step — if he even believes in the notion of sex addiction (questionable) — would be to bring the experts to Orlando. That's what he did when his knee rehab was going slowly in 2008. He flew in Dr. Anthony Galea from Toronto, with his blood-spinning methods. Tiger wants to lead a secretive life, but the modern world doesn't want him to. The votes are against him.

His closest friends are on his payroll. His caddie, Steve Williams, the Sgt. Schultz of professional golf, says of Tiger's affairs that he knew nothing, nossing. (Watch Hogan's Heroes, kids. Must-see TV). Mark ("give the kid a break") Steinberg, his IMG agent. Schoolboy pal Bryon Bell, who heads Woods's design company. When Woods returns, will they? That likely depends on Elin too. Of course Williams is saying he knew nothing.

In the meantime, while we're waiting to find out if that really is Woods in Hattiesburg, and when he will return, and who he will return with, let's do something radical. Let's reclaim golf. Before Thanksgiving, if you played the word association game with somebody who didn't follow golf, it went like this:

"I'll say the word, you say the first thing that comes to mind. Golf."
"Tiger Woods."

"Tiger Woods."
"Winner."

After Thanksgiving, it went like this:

"Golf."
"Tiger Woods."

"Tiger Woods."
"Sexaholic."

Maybe he was or is a sexaholic. Maybe there's no such thing. I'll leave that one to the therapists and doctors and patients at Pine Grove.

But this I know: golf is not Tiger Woods, and that photograph in the National Enquirer is definitely not golf. You're a golfer. You know real golf photography. Hy Peskin shooting Hogan at Merion. Robert Beck shooting Nicklaus at the Old Course. Fred Vuich shooting Woods at Augusta. Spring's coming, eventually. For Woods, for us. Better pictures with it.

In the meantime, let's hear from Arnold Palmer, the man who invented spring. There's been a lot of Tiger going around on the Internet, these Enquirer shots only the most recent of it. At one point, there was an e-mail going around that said Woods was holed up at Arnold's house at Bay Hill, working on things with Elin, hitting balls at night on the Bay Hill range. I checked it out. Nothing doing, none of it. Hitting balls at night at Bay Hill? "Our range doesn't even have lights," Palmer explained to a mutual friend.

What I do is hit 'em by the light of my headlights. Park the car on a slight decline and have at it. If you're reading, Tiger, it's a pretty fun nighttime activity.

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