The history of the decline and fall of the Tiger Empire is cheerless.
English historian-writer Edward Gibbon, who comprehensively chronicled the Romans’ ruination, might submit that the enemy within, not outside forces, contributed to or completely caused the collapse of Tiger Woods.
Reactions to the latest episode and that grim “mugshot” were sad, bad and even glad, or feelings of being had.
But, as a witness to a majority of his significant golf triumphs and rise to greatness, and an occasional acquaintance, I thought about Tiger’s desolation and isolation, and our conversations in Augusta, Ga., Kildare, Ireland, New York, La Jolla, Calif., and, lastly, Tucson, Ariz.
Nine years ago, in June, Tiger won what would be his 14th major tournament, the U.S. Open, in a Monday 18-hole playoff against Rocco Mediate. Tiger had limped around Torrey Pines for five days. Afterward, as he stood on a bluff by the Pacific Ocean awaiting an ESPN interview, I offered congratulations and asked about his wounded leg. “It’s worse than it looked. I won’t be able to play for a while.” He was melancholy. It was revealed two days later that Tiger had suffered a double-break of his left fibula and ACL knee damage.
He didn’t play again until late February in the Match Play Championship outside Tucson. In town for Rockies spring training I went out to see him compete in the first round. Winding through the crowd, I somehow wound up on the practice green, a few feet away from Tiger. “How’s the leg?” I asked. “Isn’t that what you asked me the last time?” he said. “Lot better now than then.”
“Good luck,” I said. “Hope you have a great year and get No. 15.”
That year, 2009, he won six times, was invited to the White House and became the first professional athlete to have earned $1 billion.
But Tiger didn’t get No. 15 and, on Thanksgiving weekend, was found in a damaged car outside his Florida mansion, and discovered to be a serial philanderer. His career, his body and, most important, his life would continue to fall apart. Public humiliation, loss of corporate endorsements, divorce and injuries turned Tiger into a tragic Shakespearean figure. He dropped from the top player in the world to 68th, then 128th. He eventually would split with his coach and his caddie, too.
He played only nine tournaments in 2011. Although Tiger finished fourth in the Masters, injuries forced him to miss the U.S. and British Opens, and he didn’t make the cut for the first time at The PGA Championship. Not only was he not adding majors, Tiger didn’t produce another tour title until 2013.
When his name was connected to a south Florida man who dispensed steroids to some athletes, Tiger’s character took another hit, and whispers turned to speculations.
In 1997 I was a bystander outside the ropes at Augusta when Tiger burst to the pinnacle of the golf world by becoming the first man of color to reign at the Masters. In 2000 I followed Tiger to Pebble Beach as he won the U.S. Open (by 15 strokes) and to St. Andrews where he didn’t land in the sand once all week and won the British Open by a landslide. He would go on to win the PGA and, in 2001, the Masters and become the only man to hold all four major titles at the same time.
Tiger Woods was chasing Jack Nicklaus as the greatest golfer of all time and catching Arnold Palmer as the most famous golfer in history.
In 2002, my daughter and I traveled to Ireland, and our last stop was The Kildare Hotel and Golf Club (K Club). I strolled outside one evening to River Liffey, where a lone man in a red sweatshirt was on the bank fishing. I said hello. Tiger was startled by the intrusion, but grinned when I promised I wasn’t stalking him and was just passing by.
Tiger seemed to be at peace.
But, Tiger hadn’t been the same since his dad died in 2006. Earl had created, molded and directed the prodigy, and his absence ultimately and unfortunately, I believe, would lead to the careening, out-of-control Tiger Wreck.
Currently, Tiger Woods is the 876th-ranked player in the world, and he soon appears in court, not on a course.
Someone needs to help Tiger because he can’t help himself.
He is in denial, decline and descent. And that’s the shame of Tiger Woods’ history.
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