There was a time, of course, when we mentioned Tiger Woods in the same breath as Jack Nicklaus, Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan. But now? Maybe it’s time to put him in the same class as Gary Coleman, Macaulay Culkin, maybe even Lindsay Lohan.
Tiger is a mess, folks. He’s unraveling at astonishing club speed — or maybe he’s already unraveled. A few days ago, Woods was hauled in for DUI by Jupiter police, who found him passed out behind the wheel of his Mercedes in the early-morning hours. Late yesterday, police released the much-anticipated dashcam video, which showed Tiger mumbling and stumbling around on Planet Zippy.
Sad? Of course it was sad. Tiger is 41 now, still far too young to be regarded as old and broken down. But that is precisely what he is. He has a bad back and a very bad history of relationships. And now he has a bad image, a bad look, the sunken visual of that mugshot forever etched into the cybersphere.
Yes, Tiger wore red on Sundays.
In his mugshot, he wore a white, long-sleeved microfiber top, complete with the black Nike swoosh.
Purely for comparison’s sake, try googling Nicklaus. Take a look at the images. Nicklaus is 77 now, dignified and downright senatorial. We can say it now with as much certainty as ever: in more ways than one, Tiger isn’t catching Jack.
Before this all comes off as some sort of sob job for what Woods has become, let’s spin the ball back a little. Tiger has never been especially endearing. Starting with his wife, Elin Nordegren, Woods has treated people with selfishness, foolishness, recklessness. He used them. He disposed of them. He moved on. Regardless of what we are all taught growing up, we all generally know the difference between right and wrong. Sometimes our role models show us what to do. Sometimes they show us what not to do.
If Tiger never figured out the latter, that’s on him.
Lest there be any doubt as to the magnitude of Tiger’s problems, do not delude yourselves. Two days ago, when news first leaked of Tiger’s arrest and after Woods’ camp issued a statement indicating that he had experienced a bad reaction to medication, Nicklaus himself told reporters that Tiger “needs our help.” On the surface, the Golden Bear didn’t appear to be buying Tiger’s alibi, and anyone with a half a brain shouldn’t be buying it, either. Tiger might be messed up the way that Mike Tyson was. The only difference, as a colleague of mine noted, is that Tiger was always more polished and hid it better. He did a far better job of deceiving us.
As usual, the internet is already flooded with rumors about where Woods was that night, whom he was with, what they were doing. They are all legitimate questions. Given Tiger’s reputation and the people he has been linked to over the past seven or eight years, does anyone honestly believe he was out alone? Where did he bang up his car? Was someone with him at the time? Did that person abandon him? And if Tiger was alone, where was he going in the middle of the night?
Oh, that’s right. He slurred to police officers that he liked “to drive.” Presumably, he didn’t mean from the tee box.
By now, we all know that Tiger was a prodigy. He was on The Mike Douglas Show at the age of two. He broke 80 for the first time when he was eight. He won the Junior World Championship on a half-dozen occasions. He went to Stanford, turned pro at 20, won his first major at 21. He revolutionized the game, became the face of golf and launched Nike’s golf business. He was on a methodical march to become the greatest golfer in history and one of the greatest athletes of our time.
And then, while winning the U.S. Open with a torn knee ligament in June 2008, at the age of 32, he peaked.
Slightly more than a year later, in November of 2009, the National Enquirer posted its infamous story about Woods’ relationship with Rachel Uchitel. Tiger’s ball of yarn hasn’t stopped unraveling since. There was the car accident near his home. There were private voicemails released on the internet. There were women coming out of the woodwork, from porn sets to breakfast joints. And there was Tiger — physically, emotionally and psychologically beat up — going winless in majors ever since.
Make of this what you will, but Nike got out of the golf ball and equipment business last year. Nike still deals in golf shoes and clothing — the image-based, wrapping paper, if you will — but the company no longer deals in the instruments of the trade, the real stuff. Maybe Nike knew then what everyone else in the golf world also probably knew: that Tiger was breaking down in every way imaginable, that he had lost control of his health, career and life, that he was having trouble coping without the one thing — golf — that defined his entire being.
And that he was effectively broken down on the side of the road, in the middle of the night, secretly hoping someone would find him.
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.