The next act of Tiger Woods’ career will be just as dramatic as the first one, but it will have little to do with the number of majors he wins or the amount of money he earns. What the Masters proved over the weekend was that no matter how much success Woods has on the golf course, he’ll never again have the chance to be the heroic sports figure. There will be no more tears shed for him. He can’t have what Phil Mickelson has. He spent the first act nailing everything in sight and now wherever he goes, the media and the public will take great joy trying to nail him.
It’s not just that Woods will never be able to stand near a woman again without the entire world speculating that he’s relapsed; it’s also that he can never swear, never even raise his voice, without everyone calling him a fraud. Just before the tournament began last week, he promised that he was going to try to control his attitude o, the golf course. By Friday, he was back to being the old Tiger, chastising himself after a couple of misguided shots. He’s always been like this. The difference now is that even though his vulgar language has nothing to do with the number of women he slept with, the two will always go hand-in-hand. Every time something negative happens to him, he’ll be treated as though he fell off the wagon and back into bed with another blonde waitress.
That’s how it will be for Tiger in 2010 and beyond. That’s the next act. He might still be the best golfer in the world, but what makes him so captivating is the idea that he could blow up at any minute and chances are a camera will be there to catch it.
There was this false notion on Thursday afternoon that when Tiger approached the first tee, the crowd was cheering for him. They weren’t. They were cheering for themselves. They were cheering because they were a part of a moment that will always be remembered in sports. It had everything to do with Tiger, but it was not a sign of all the fans suddenly forgiving him for his mistakes. Of course it was sold that way. There was even a story on ESPN about a guy who asked another fan to move over so his teenage daughters could watch Woods tee-off. How touching. For some reason, the World Wide Leader decided to follow Nike’s plan and attempted to make Tiger the sympathetic figure.
That all changed as soon as the real sympathetic figure started to charge up the leader board. Right when it became clear that Mickelson might be able to win the whole thing, the focus on Tiger shifted. No longer were we hearing about Woods signing autographs (something he never does) for fans or how relaxed he looked. Now the questions about the pressure being too much took over. And the swearing led to the most important question of all:
Has Tiger Woods really changed?
Obviously, it’s too early to tell. But Woods has no one to blame for this but himself. He was obligated to promise that his behavior off the course would be different. He didn’t have to address anything about his actions off the course. Now, whether he likes it or not, the two will go hand-in-hand.
Which just makes it all the more difficult for anyone to actually root for him.