April 10, 2010 in Sports

Admire Woods? Yes and no

Edwin Pope Miami Herald

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Guilty, Your Honor, without an excuse. Hopelessly guilty of Tigerism. Can’t resist writing about him even when he’s two strokes off Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter in the Masters, and no better than tied with four others for third.

He’s playing well – 68 and 70 the first two days – but nothing like you might reasonably expect for a golfer some consider the greatest.

Not I. Some.

So what is it about Tiger? What makes the flame that draws so many of us like moths? And what’s missing in the flame?

Lots, both ways.

On the plus side are 14 majors victories and more than $100 million won and hundreds of millions more from endorsements (which his well-chronicled misbehavior isn’t helping right now.)

But of all the things that are intriguing about Eldrick Tiger Woods, the most intriguing is the persistence of his arrogance even when so little of it is warranted.

Don’t overlook, either, the hardest thing of all to pull off – the frequent affability of that arrogance.

I am among the hundreds of millions who were recently surprised by official news of his off-course shenanigans.

Surprised, but not shocked. And still not ready to believe we have seen more than a fraction of Tiger’s “other” life. Just remember, $100 million a year will buy a lot of confidentiality.

Do I still admire Tiger Woods? Yes, and no.

Yes, as a 34-year-old dedicated, if not solely, to a craft he mastered nearly half his lifetime ago.

No, as a man so altogether gifted and yet so failing in his obligation to the moral standards his fame demands he uphold. I am hardly naive enough to believe that he’s the only sports superstar sinning away at high speed. That doesn’t make it right.

An old friend invokes words from an old Mac Davis song to fit Tiger. The friend is Loran Smith of the Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald, and he recites some of the lyrics, “Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you are perfect in every way.”

I’d say that pretty much sums up Tiger’s take on Tiger.

A larger question – and I put this to a number of colleagues who were fascinated by it but offered no consensus whatsoever – can Tiger ever again be as good as he has been?

He has won 14 majors to Jack Nicklaus’ record 18. Between 2000 and 2002, he won six of nine Grand Slam events. But this is eight years later, and that formidable-looking body has often shown up fragile.

My own opinion is, no, he can never again be as good as he has been. The very question is inhuman. But little he cares about any opinion except his own.

He’s feeling good.

“My practice has been very good,” Woods said. “I didn’t have the luxury of playing tournaments (the last five months), so my practice was certainly much more focused, because it had to be.”

He still isn’t ready to recommit to his old schedule.

“I would like to,” he said, “but I don’t know. I’m going to have to evaluate some things after this event.”

Things like time with his wife and two children, the main victims of his domestic strife.

There are still plenty of things for Tiger to settle. This Masters week may be the least of them.

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