Comment - Tiger Woods a bloated imitation of his old self - his future has never been more uncertain
What is it about Tiger Woods and cars in the dead of night?
If his crash into that fire hydrant in 2009 led to his downfall as an icon, then, who knows, perhaps his charge of driving under the influence will finally spell the end of his career as a professional golfer.
“Rock bottom” was the first phrase which sprang to mind when hearing of the 41-year-old’s arrest and then seeing that awful bloated mugshot of him released by Palm Beach County jail.
It is hard to reconcile the broken figure in the photo with the red-shirted superhero who burst into our sporting and, yes, social consciousness with such vibrancy and certainty two decades ago.
How can this be the same person who refused to observe the boundaries of this white-man’s sport and promised a new, inclusive future?
That Tiger was unbeatable and even if he was not, would never have acknowledged defeat. But this Tiger, with that bleary-eyed visage of resignation, has nowhere to go, nowhere to run and, definitely, nowhere to roar. It is almost impossible to look at that belittling, shameful image and envisage those old fist-pumps of victorious belligerence.
The cruel cynics are already feasting on that sorrowful countenance and harking back in joy to the statement on his website last week. It is, indeed, a quite glorious irony. “I haven’t felt this good in years,” Woods had declared, talking about his latest surgery.
Presumably, as he lay in that Florida cell yesterday, Woods had not felt that low in years. Not since the emergence of the sex scandal which devastated his life.
After going some way to rebuilding his reputation by emphasising his role as the divorced but dedicated father to two beloved young children, and with the occasional and, it must be said, apparently reluctant, acknowledgement that he had tried to fix a deeply flawed personality, this will put Woods back to square one on the infamy chart.
The ridicule will return and it will be as vicious as some of the admonishments will be overly pious. Woods will be dreading the fallout, dreading facing the press, dreading hearing the catcalls from the galleries. Could he stand going through all that ignominy again?
That must be the principal consideration when trying to ascertain where this leaves him in the sporting sense. The prospect of all that scorn really might convince him to hang up his spikes for good and retreat into the shadows of that huge, lonely mansion in Jupiter. Yet with Tiger, nothing has ever been guaranteed.
With this complex man – a figure even those of us who have watched and listened to closely for more than 13 years have come nowhere near to understanding – the urge always is to jerk the knee and in the forthcoming days and weeks there will be all sorts of predictions and obituaries.
Except, the truth is, many had believed he was finished anyway. Woods has not won in four years because of his back problem, which has required four operations in two years. He is 41. He has played only 54 competitive holes so far this year and is not expected to play any more. So this will hardly affect this campaign. Yet until this moment, at least there had been a little hope, albeit most of it provided by his own assurances from behind his ludicrously reinforced curtain.
Following the seemed success of the spinal fusion (“It is hard to express how much better I feel,” Woods wrote. “It was instant nerve relief”) there was renewed optimism that the 14-time major-winner could resume his chase of Jack Nicklaus’s record mark of 18. That pursuit now seems more forlorn than ever.
Those who have maintained that he has become only a brand, perpetuating the illusion of remaining a contender only for financial reasons, will feel their conviction strengthened. Where next?
There will be no worries on his playing options, that is for sure. The PGA Tour will not do anything. Yes, it issued John Daly with multiple fines and a few bans when he brought the Tour into similar “disrepute”, but this is Woods and he remains synonymous with the circuit’s incredible growth. He is still the biggest draw in the game.
It will be intriguing to see how his sponsors react, although nobody should anticipate anything other than complete support from Nike. Woods’s main backers stuck by him during the last onslaught of ignominy and will do so gain.
TaylorMade is interesting, just because the clubmaker – which signed up Woods to a multi-year contract in January in the wake of Nike’s withdrawal from the hardware business – might wonder what a golfer supposedly in full rehab from surgery is doing apparently out on the lash. Particularly after his assurances that he was doing everything in his power to come back and, was thus following the medics’ every command.
Woods’s own words will join in the rush to gang up against him. Last Wednesday he told the world: “I want to say unequivocally, I want to play professional golf again. Right now, my sole focus is rehab and doing what the doctors tell me.”
Those comments now look utterly ridiculous and he cannot expect an easy ride. Tiger Woods is back in the dock and this time there might be no way back. What a sad, wretched conclusion this could be for one of sport’s most uplifting legends.