THE MIDNIGHT MAN
There are two simple truths about American society. First, if you are guilty in the eyes of the media, you will be found guilty in the court of public opinion. Second, the people love a comeback.
Upon the release of a story alleging that Tiger Woods had numerous extramarital affairs, he immediately was found guilty by the American public and has been continually scrutinized ever since. But after almost two-and-a-half-years of personal reflection and growth, as well as overcoming numerous physical battles, Woods’ comeback came full circle yesterday with a victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
When the National Enquirer published a story alleging Woods’ extramarital affair with nightclub manager Rachel Uchitel on Nov. 25, 2009, no one could have imagined the fallout that would ensure. Many, like me, dismissed the story as just another attempt by the Enquirer to boost sales by making an outrageous claim against the world’s most famous athlete. Yet, just two days later, Woods was involved in an early-morning car accident that the media linked to his marital troubles. In the following weeks, more than a dozen women came forward admitting to having an affair with him.
Woods finally admitted to his infidelity on Dec. 11, 2009, and subsequently took an indefinite break from golf. This news shocked the world and changed his image forever. Those who once loved him began to hate him. Those who already despised him seemed validated in their hatred. And then the skeptics began to ask questions. They wondered how such an extremely private person with a clean-cut image could have done this to his family. More importantly, they asked whether Woods would ever be the same on the golf course.
I cannot give you an answer to the first question – Woods’ alleged infidelities lay with him and him only. But for the past two years, the answer to the latter question has been a resounding no. Woods lost his title as the world’s most marketable man, as Accenture, AT&T, Gatorade, General Motors, Tag Heuer and Gillette dropped him as their spokesman. His wife, Elin, divorced him. He changed swing coaches, from Hank Haney to the young Sean Foley. He fired his long-time caddie, Australian Steve Williams. And on the course, Woods simply couldn’t win. Though there were stretches of play where he looked like the Tiger of old, particularly at the 2010 and 2011 Masters, Woods was not able to do what had seemingly become second-nature to him: win.
But during the past few months, things slowly started to change. At the invite-only Chevron World Challenge, Woods broke through and ended his winless streak. He continued his strong play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, finishing third in a strong field containing many of the world’s best players. Back in the United States a few weeks later, Woods performed well at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. At the Honda Classic, behind his best final round ever, Woods finished second to Rory McIlroy. It only seemed a matter of time before he once again claimed victory in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event.
Then came the WGC-Cadillac Championship two weeks ago. Entering the fourth round tied for fourth place, analysts and fans expected Woods to make a run up the leader board. But after just 12 holes of mediocre play, he withdrew due to a strained left Achilles tendon. Many wondered whether Tiger had experienced another devastating setback on his long road to recovery.
On Sunday, Woods proved those people wrong, when he completed his comeback with a victory at “The King’s (Arnold Palmer)” tournament.
It is too early to say what Woods’ win really means. On a personal level, I am sure Tiger has to be extremely happy and proud. For a man whose only goal is to win each and every tournament he plays in, that goal has been accomplished. But on a larger scale, Woods’ win could mean two things.
First, the Tiger that we all know and love has finally returned. Though this proclamation may be premature, if you were watching his play this weekend, you realize that the Tiger today is not the Tiger of even three months ago, much less the past two years. He finally has control of his new swing and he seems to have rediscovered his putting stroke. The other players should be concerned – if Tiger has returned to form, expect big things from him this year.
Second, his victory could allow the public to finally forget his past indiscretions and embrace his amazing comeback. For the past two years, the tour, the sport and its fans have severely missed Woods. While Phil and Co. have done a remarkable job of keeping golf relevant, the sport only truly thrives when Tiger plays well. I think Woods’ victory finally will allow the American public to look past his mistakes, move forward and support the 14-time major champion. Like I stated above, America loves a comeback story.
Here’s to hoping America loves and roots for Tiger once again. I surely am ready to.