Nobody wants to think about where Tiger was a year ago, but it has everything to do with where he is now

May 28, 2018

By all appearances, Tiger Woods, as we have seen him this year, is as happy, fit and well-adjusted as he’s ever been. He’s nicer. Everybody can see that, right? Yes. But, of course, it’s impossible to really know. He’s Tiger Woods, a public figure who has turned concealment into an art form. That worked for a long time. Then came the release — by the police department in Jupiter, Fla. — of his 98-minute DUI arrest tape from one year ago. On it, you can see Woods as you never wanted to see him and surely as Woods never wanted to see himself. Incoherent. Unbalanced. Stoned out of his gourd, to use some 1970s vernacular. It was 2 in the morning when the police arrived on the scene, an expensive foreign car on the side of the road with damaged rims, an incoherent celebrity in the driver’s seat.

The events from last Memorial Day were far more impactful than Woods’s rules debacle at the BMW tournament outside Chicago in 2013, when he failed to penalize himself for causing his ball to move fractionally in the woods on the first hole of the second round. Woods was defiant then, but the upshot was that Tour rules officials had to take command of Woods’s scorecard for him. When the golf commentator Brandel Chamblee, and only a very few others, questioned Woods’s integrity then, Woods and his people tried to bury him alive and they were partly successful. Woods had won five times that year. He still had all his juice, and at the end of the year his fellow players elected him as Player of the Year.

You could make the case, too, that the events of last Memorial Day were more impactful on Woods than the sordid 2010 stiletto parade, when his serial infidelity was revealed. That sad saga cost Woods his marriage and over $200 million, between his divorce settlement and his lost earnings capacity. Woods was publicly contrite then but there was no obvious change in him as a person, and he continued to be a dominating golfer. Also, you could make the case, as Jack Nicklaus did at the time, that Woods’s private life was nobody’s business but his own and his family’s.[image:14147758]

Then came the dashcam video, and the booking video — the record of the arrest. It is an altogether different matter. Looking at those tapes, anybody could conclude that Woods could have injured or killed himself that night, and he could have injured or killed others. Had his two children been in his black Mercedes sedan that night, Woods would likely have faced a prison sentence. Had his children been with him, Woods, a single father, might have found the terms of his custody changed significantly by a family-court judge in the wake of that night’s events.

Two weeks after his arrest, Woods checked into a residential drug-abuse rehab facility near his home for a one-month stay. It was his third reported in-patient treatment for compulsive, destructive behavior. Woods has never talked, and is seldom asked, about any aspect of his off-course life, unless it relates to his many surgeries and attending his children’s school and sporting events. His friends, his employees and his sponsors do not talk meaningfully about him. Woods, effectively, has narrowed our focus. It is left to us to do the basic math of his life and times. Woods has not won a major since the dissolution of his marriage. He has not won a Tour event since the moving ball episode at Chicago. Maybe that’s just a coincidence. Maybe not. Roger Maltbie once made a video called “Golf’s a Funny Game.”

Woods has always focused on the three things he can control: his scores, his swing, his public comments. Like many driven people — a Steve Jobs, a Ted Williams, a Howard Hughes — Woods cedes control with immense reluctance. That’s why Hank Haney’s 2012 book, The Big Miss, galled him so. The 500-page biography that came out in March, the same. The dominant feature on its cover is Tiger’s right eye. If you have ever looked in it you know it reveals nothing but allergies and poor sleep. Beyond that, it doesn’t offer much. Neither does the other one.

Which leads us again to last Memorial Day. Millions of people across the world have seen the mug shot. It’s scary and unsettling. Surely for Woods and his family, friends and business partners, but also for anybody who cares about him. Yes, the root of our care is superficial. It is just a function of his greatness as a golfer and the mantle he carries as a descendant of Nicklaus, of Jones, of the Morrises, old and young. But that’s the nature of fandom. We fantasize about what it would be like to be that guy. To have Howard Hughes’s wealth. To have Steve Jobs’s imagination. To have Tiger’s putting stroke. It’s easier for us if we forget that the subjects of our adulations are also human beings.[image:14147759]

It’s been this way forever. It was about 70 years ago that Stanley Woodward, a legendary newspaper editor, was on the point of telling his baseball writer Red Smith to “stop godding up those ballplayers.” But Smith did it and we all do it. It’s in our nature. Parents have been telling teenagers forever that nothing good happens in a car at two in the morning, the time of Woods’s arrest. Did it ever occur to you that Woods, a grown man with two children and thriving businesses and all that responsibility, would have to be told the same? But there he was.

This is the AP summary of Woods’s post-arrest toxicology report:

“The report, prepared by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, says Woods, 41, had THC, the active ingredient for marijuana; as well as the painkillers Vicodin and Dilaudid; the anxiety and sleep drug Xanax; and the anti-insomnia drug Ambien in his system when he was arrested at 2 a.m. on May 29 about 15 miles from his home in Jupiter.” His reported breathalyzer reading was 0.000, meaning there was not even trace amounts of alcohol in his breath.

The internet being the internet, there were claims that Woods was belligerent with the arresting officers. The videotape evidence suggests the complete opposite. You can see him trying to comply with requests to walk a straight line and recite the alphabet. But he is completely incapacitated and struggles to follow the most basic instructions.

You could make the case that the year since that arrest has been the most remarkable of Woods’s life. He looks great — healthy and happy. His play, at times, has been excellent, and he has done it with a back surgery in which two discs in his vertebrae were fused. Few players have contended at an elite level following that surgery, and over the course of this year even a layman can see the obvious improvements in Tiger’s mobility, swing and shots.

In his public remarks, there has been a higher level of candor, warmth and humor than there has been in the past. People often want to know if Tiger has, quote, changed. That word is too charged, and it asks too much. Woods seems to be evolving. On some level he’s morphing from player to player-statesman. Like Phil Mickelson and Davis Love, who are both elders and contemporaries, he will have a role in Tour events and in Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup play for many years to come. He will design courses, raise and give away money to good causes, raise his kids, attend the dinners that are the rewards of his hard work and good play. None of that will offer anything like the excitement and adrenaline rush he felt in his circa 2000 prime. But every life has stages.[image:14147760]

In terms of athletic performance, the 12-month period between the 1999 Memorial tournament and the 2000 Memorial tournament was extraordinary for Woods. He won the 1999 Memorial and the 2000 Memorial and nine events in between them. A couple weeks after the 2000 Memorial, he won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by 15, then the British Open at St. Andrews by six and then the PGA Championship in that crazy playoff with Bob May. This insanely good golf bender continued from there. In terms of domination, the only athlete you could possibly compare him to had four legs and never had to give an interview: Secretariat, in 1972 and especially 1973.

We fans have short memories. Nobody wants to think about where Woods was a year ago, even though it has everything to do with where he is now. When the conversation turns to Woods — at your home course, on our Sunday night Tour Confidential, in PGA Tour locker rooms — the question is always the same: Will Woods win a Tour event again? Will he win this week at the Memorial, where he has won five times? Will he win a 15th major?

Tiger, of course, would like to pad his Hall of Fame credentials. It is part, but only part, of his continuing effort of reconstituting his life. Years ago, Woods used to say, “Second sucks.” That was then. As a tournament golfer the most significant thing Woods has done between Memorial Day 2017 and Memorial Day 2018 is manage a tie for second at the Tour’s stop in Tampa on a resort course in March, the Valspar.

It has been extraordinary to see the response to Woods in the four weeks he has played well this year, at Honda, at Valspar, at Bay Hill, at the Players. He didn’t close it out on Sunday afternoon in any of those events. Maybe he has lost that gear. Maybe he’s in the process of recovering it. Either way, Tiger Woods’s play and his response to his play this year has made him seem actually human. Only a golfing machine could win a U.S. Open by 15. A lot of guys have hit bad shots down the stretch. Who can you relate to more?

Michael Bamberger may be reached at [email protected]