By: Jamie Samuelsen
We know this to be true thanks to Rachel Uchitel, Joslyn James and the infamous waitress from Perkins (Mindy Lawton). His private dalliances became very public in 2009 and proceeded to cost him millions of dollars in endorsements and his standing as one of the most beloved athletes on the planet.
But it didn’t cost him his popularity. And it clearly didn’t cost him his professional standing. Woods has been better than any golfer in the world in recent months and is once again ranked number one in the world. He remains the biggest attraction in the sport and will be the heavy favorite to win the U.S. Open next month even though he hasn’t won a major since 2008. He even has a new girlfriend – Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn.
In short, Tiger has rebuilt his image. Sure he might have cheated, but many men and women have done the same. And his private life should in fact be his private life, even though he’s one of the most popular human beings alive.
But something troubling is bubbling the last few weeks. Tiger Woods may be a cheater. Not the marrying kind, but the golfing kind. And if we know anything about golf, it’s that there’s nothing worse you can be called. You can be a choker. You can be a smoker. You can be a drinker. You can do most anything. But if you cheat, you’re essentially going against everything that the “great game of honor” has ever stood for.
Three episodes have brought us to this point.
The first happened at The Masters in April when Woods took what turned out to be an illegal drop on the 15th hole in the second round. Nobody caught it at the time, but a TV viewer called in the mistake. Woods signed a scorecard with a 71 which turned out to be incorrect. The rule for an incorrect card is disqualification. But the Masters officials huddled and decided to allow Woods to continue and give him a two shot penalty citing a rule that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. This seemed like an honest mistake, one that Woods readily admitted on a post round interview with ESPN. But many in the golf world – including Nick Faldo – called on Woods to withdraw from the tournament. Some felt that he’d be disgracing the game by not taking the penalty that the rules called for.
Then this past weekend at the TPC, we had two episodes. One came on Saturday when Woods and Sergio Garcia were paired together. Woods grabbed a club out of his bag just as Garcia was playing a shot on the other side of the fairway. The Woods move caused the crowd to applaud because it indicated he was shooting for the pin. The noise, according to Garcia, was a distraction. He hadn’t started his swing yet, but still flashed Tiger a nasty glare. Garcia complained about this after the round. Woods said that the course marshals had told him that he was clear to play which is why he grabbed his club. Garcia is a mental weakling. And he choked on Sunday which is why he lost the tournament. But two different marshals told Sports Illustrated that they never talked to Woods and Woods never asked if the course was clear. In other words, it sounds a lot like Tiger is lying. He didn’t break any rules. But making nouse while your opponent is hitting is still a clear violation of golf etiquette. And it’s shameful to lie about it afterwards.
Also over the weekend, Woods took another controversial drop, one that outspoken NBC golf analyst Johnny Miller actively took note of. He hit his tee shot on the 14th hole on Sunday into the water. It looked on TV like the ball never crossed any land, but went right into the water. Instead, Woods marched right up the hole and dropped very near where his ball went into the water. Woods said after the round that he consulted with playing partner Casey Wittenberg about where the ball crossed the hazard line and they both agreed with the drop. And to be fair to Woods, the camera angle could have been misleading.
But we still have three episodes in the span of six weeks that make Woods look like his pushing the envelope a bit it terms of rules or at least in terms of golf ethics.
To the average fan, this might not seem like much. And if Woods is contending on Sunday, much of America will still be watching. But Garcia spoke out on Saturday on a perceived slight. And Miller spoke out. And Faldo spoke out. And Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee spoke out. Ask Vijay Singh how cheating worked out for him. Singh has won three majors. But some golfers on tour still regard him as the guy who was accused of signing an incorrect card on the Asian Tour back in 1985. Singh still claims it’s a misunderstanding. But the perception is out there.
It’s probably a good think that Woods lost the Masters to Adam Scott. In his quest for Jack Nicklaus’ all time major record, it would be sticky if one of his titles came with an asterisk, either real or perceived.
Woods rebuilt his image post-divorce for the most part. He was able to do that because he is so careful about letting people into his private life. He’d be wise to be a little more careful on the golf course from now on. He can’t keep people away from that aspect of his life. And they’re all starting to look a little bit closer.