Unlike Tiger Woods, the corporate sector has no recovery shot
Published 20/12/2009 | 05:00
T here comes a point in every public man's life when, one way or another, he is hog-tied and carried naked through the hotel lobby.
They have been parading Tiger Woods for some time now, an exhibition of public and phoney morality which may have only made Ben Dunne thankful he was hog-tied only literally and so heavily medicated that he was oblivious to much of the fuss.
Despite the rumours, Tiger had no such consolation. The main feature of this story since it broke has been a failure of the imagination. The Tiger who was portrayed by those committing the obscenity of writing about a truly great man in the terms they normally reserve for Lindsay Lohan was not the Tiger his fans recognised.
Nobody saw Muhammad Ali's far more public womanising as something that undermined him as a sportsman or as a revolutionary figure. There haven't been too many who had complained that the fight with Joe Frazier in Manila was tarnished because Ali had allowed the woman who was his mistress to be introduced as his wife when he met President Marcos.
Martin Luther King is said to have been so anguished by his nights of wild extra-marital sex that it spurred him on to greater advances for the civil rights movement.
Who knows what drove Tiger but he never lacked imagination and last week he had to again allow them to glimpse a future they couldn't comprehend until he delivered it. Once he announced his indefinite withdrawal, the world saw what they would be missing and golf saw what it couldn't do without.
Suddenly, they realised they can't live without him. In the orgy of bullshit, there was only one place to turn for pure reason, to see the unvarnished truth. On most betting websites, Tiger Woods is favourite to win the Masters. Perhaps this statement needs to be expanded upon: for a tournament in which he is unlikely to play, Tiger is a short-priced favourite to win.
For some of us, backing Tiger is the only financially prudent move we make year-on-year. Even for those in the financial world like Accenture, it would seem that supporting Tiger was their only truly financially prudent move year-on-year but, last week, they too revealed that they can't bet like men without bailing out.
It is not surprising that the men whose livelihood depends on accurately pricing Tiger for tournaments have installed him as favourite for a tournament he is unlikely to play in.
They won't be offering any novelty bets on this one. I backed Tiger for the British Open last year and wanted to back him again even after he'd missed the cut. As he sat in his private jet flying the wrong way across the Atlantic, he still represented the value in the field. It was still his to lose.
So, once again, the bookmakers' thinking was sound and free from the sanctimonious bullshit: Their reasoning was pure: If Tiger can win the US Open with a broken leg, he won't have any problem winning a major with a broken heart, baby!
Tiger has been receiving unsolicited advice for weeks. In the last seven days, this has been crystallised. He needs to get in front of the story, everybody says. I'm not sure what this means except that Tiger should give them what they want, namely a revealing interview. Instead, he gave them what they didn't want, a bit of truth that hurts: they can't live without him.
The financial industries have again failed when we needed them most. Accenture's distancing themselves from Tiger was in contrast to Nike's steadfastness.
If there is a story of human weakness in this tale, it is the weakness of the corporate sector. Tiger can at least take comfort that he is the greatest golfer who ever lived when they start waving their morality clauses at him.
The Tiger story has once again demonstrated what the world learned painfully during the collapse of western banking. These people aren't risk-takers as gamblers understand it or as the men who install Tiger as favourite for every major, despite indications that he may not play in them, understand it.
They play with the understanding, we know now, that somebody else will tidy up their mess or they can run from somebody else's problems. There are no bail-outs in Tiger's world, no soft landings when he goes down the home stretch without the aid of his corporate sponsors.
The essence of this problem is that sponsors have come to believe that they are as important to Tiger as they would like the rest of us to believe. Gillette and Accenture pay a lot of money to make us believe they are inextricably linked with Tiger Woods but we don't believe it and the professional sportsmen don't either, even if it would be financial suicide to say so. But those who pay the money believe the weight of their backing has made them equal partners, a lie which has been revealed by their decision to drop Tiger.
Only Nike had some perspective, seeing the revelations as a "minor blip". That's not how Tiger's wife sees them, the moralists cry, but we don't have to see things as she does, we are allowed to take a different view without feeling guilty. I can still listen to 'River Deep, Mountain High' without feeling guilty.
When Tiger quit golf, he outmanoeuvred them once again. He got ahead of the story with a typical act of daring genius that, as is so often the case, involved no concession to the orthodoxy. Now they say he has been spotted playing golf at night. Even in the dark, they would still make him favourite.