By Tony Massarotti
Eldrick Tont Woods is taking on a sage-like quality now, his 40th birthday far, far closer than his last major championship. And so there is talk this week of how Tiger has changed, of how he is smiling and hugging, of how he is entering the next phase of his career and life as we approach yet another major golf championship.
This is 40?
This is comical.
More than five years after Woods’ personal life and career exploded like a trick golf ball, Woods enters the Masters tomorrow in search of the 15th major championship that has eluded him for going on seven years. For those who have forgiven Tiger, Woods’ appearance feels like the inevitable comeback stage of “Behind The Music.” For the rest of us, it feels like yet another contrived attempt to resurrect the career and image of a man who got what was coming to him.
Let’s make something clear here: some of us are happy Woods is back for this Masters because golf is infinitely more entertaining when he is a part of it. On the course, because of his past, Woods is always lurking, always one charge away from contention or the outright lead. He is a captivating entertainer. But the enjoyment of watching him is very different than the act of rooting for him, and it’s that last part that some of us simply cannot bring ourselves to do.
For a good chunk of his life, Tiger treated people like dirt, folks. His wife. His kids. His mistresses. Now that he’s approaching 40, he should know that as well as anyone. At the peak of his career, Woods was a brilliant golfer, perhaps the best ever, but he was proven to be something far less endearing as a human being.
Professional sports are a curious thing, aren’t they? Most of you will tune into the Masters this week and root for Woods the way you always have, from the first tee at the 1997 Masters to final hole of the U.S. Open playoff with Rocco Mediate in 2008. You might even wear red on Sunday. You will completely wipe away the stain of Woods’ scandal because to acknowledge it would cause your worlds to collide, to mesh reality with fantasy.
After all, you go to sports to escape the bad stuff, not extend it.
But seriously, how can you possibly bring yourself to root for this guy? For a long time on tour, Woods was new and exciting, a threat to the stodgy establishment that has been professional golf. He was intense and dynamic. He played the game differently, with passion and power, and he appealed to an entirely different demographic than golf was ever really exposed to. Tiger was young. Tiger was great. Tiger took a golf world dressed in knickers and saddle shoes and turned the PGA into a scintillating, interactive video game, the kind of transition that many would have deemed impossible.
That Tiger we liked. That Tiger was worth rooting for. That Tiger challenged the establishment and the accepted way of doing things.
And then, incredibly, Tiger spoiled, becoming the embodiment of entitlement and arrogance. Clearly, he thought he could do anything, get away with anything. The line between fantasy and reality became very, very blurred. Tiger abused our trust and lost our faith, and he hasn’t been the same – on the course or off – since. More than any other sport, perhaps, golf is a game of discipline and control, and Woods long ago taught us that he lost the reins on both.
Precisely 30 years ago this week, in a story that captivated the golf world and beyond, Jack Nicklaus won the Masters at age 46, collecting his record 18th major championship. It was Nicklaus’ last major title, a performance for the ages. This week, Woods enters this same tournament in the immediate aftermath of injuries both physical and mental, and his career seems in disrepair. His short game was in the dumpster early this year. He has issues with back and “glutes.” And now he has returned from a self-imposed absence, all hugs and smiles, perhaps setting the stage for his inevitable comeback, for another run at immortality.
From tomorrow to late Sunday, many of you will be rooting again for Tiger Woods.
But I won’t be.
Tony Massarotti covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe, and 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.