Tiger Woods still stumbling through life

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Tiger Woods still stumbling through life
« on: November 24, 2010, 04:45:05 am »
by Dan Wetzel

In the early morning hours after last Thanksgiving, a barefoot Tiger Woods left his home, quickly pulled his Cadillac Escalade out of his Windermere, Fla., driveway and made an awkward, unnatural 210-degree turn into a tree and a fire hydrant.

By the time the cops came, his wife, Elin, had smashed his back windows out with a golf club and mentioned Tiger may be on Ambien. Then his world exploded.

The crash came in the wake of a National Enquirer story about Tiger cheating on Elin. It caused a tidal wave of mistresses to step forward in a nearly unprecedented tabloid fury. There were wild tales from VIP hostesses and porn stars. There were cringe-inducing admissions about a college-aged neighbor and the waitress at the local Perkins where Tiger and Elin used to go and read the newspaper.

Just like that, the carefully crafted, clean-cut image of Tiger Woods – world’s best golfer and million-dollar pitchman – came apart.

And it turns out that wasn’t even the worst of it.

It’s a year later and, quite incredibly, the Woods saga continues – the latest misstep was a series of widely panned media appearances that many considered scripted and lacking sincerity. Tiger hasn’t won a golf tournament since the wreck and continues to employ a management team that has proven incapable of rehabbing his image.

One Thanksgiving later and he’s still treading water – albeit now a divorced father of two and, quite possibly, actually a happier, healthier and better-adjusted person. Yet that isn’t what everyone will be joking about this weekend.

The image of Elin supposedly chasing him with a golf club remains.

Let’s start with this caveat: it shouldn’t matter what Tiger Woods does with his private life. Other than the car wreck – for which he received a fine – it’s not a public matter. OK, no problem. Leave him alone. We all agree.

[Related: A year in turmoil: The complete Tiger timeline]

Only this is 2010 America and Woods made hundreds of millions selling the public on his perfect persona. Maybe people shouldn’t care but they instinctively do and there is an entire machine that will crank on to feed that appetite. A completely innocent 4-year-old Suri Cruise shouldn’t stare back at us from the 7-Eleven magazine rack either, but there she is.

You can wish reality away or deal with it. Tiger clearly wants to win this battle. It’s just the plan of attack he and his team have taken to show they are naïve to think this was still 2008 and everyone would love Tiger because he’s Tiger. That works during actual tournament play, but only because golf galleries cheer everyone. It’s the nature of the fans.

Even then, for every roar of approval I heard when following Tiger this year, there were just as many snide remarks and dirty jokes that followed. He’s still more punch line than sporting hero.

There are two proven ways for Woods to get his public life back on track:

1. Appear honest, open and willing to discuss his shortcomings, admit his mistakes and be at the mercy of what are normally forgiving people. In short, look human. Give fans something. Sincerity works. The reaction from his repeated attempts says that hasn’t come through.

2. Win. Remind the public why they liked him in the first place.

Considering the amount of money he can (and does) spend on image consultants it’s unbelievable he’s failed at the first task. Considering that a year ago he was thought of as, if not the greatest golfer of all time, then at least in the top three, it’s just as unbelievable he can’t do the second either.

Tiger needs a new management team. And a new (or old) swing.

As crazed as the Woods scandal was, celebrities routinely overcome similar or even bigger indiscretions. San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker is in the middle of a tabloid scandal for cheating on his wife, actress Eva Longoria. Monday he scored 24 points and dished 10 assists as the Spurs won their 11th consecutive game. The crowd passionately cheered for him. Scandal? What scandal?

Kobe Bryant was accused of sexual assault, never missed a game and returned to iconic NBA status. Ray Lewis was accused of being involved in a street fight that led to the death of two people. He’s back to beloved NFL star and corporate pitchman. Michael Vick was imprisoned for his part in a brutal, interstate dog-fighting operation. He’s now the talk of football.

In Hollywood, Charlie Sheen is a weekly news-making mess. The ratings for “Two and a Half Men” remain strong (a mystery in itself, but that’s a different column). Hugh Grant once cheated on Elizabeth Hurley by picking up a Los Angeles street prostitute. He offered a mea culpa on the “Tonight Show” and went back to starring in romantic comedies.

Then there’s the roller coaster that is Bill Clinton.

Yet Tiger flounders on.

Woods has come across as insincere to much (not all, but enough) of the public. They routinely reject even the suggestion that he’s handled his marital failures in a manner more honest and direct and profound than so many others.

Let’s recap here: Tiger voluntarily left the PGA Tour. He twice entered intense rehab facilities which, judging on the testimonies of past patients, feature powerful and painful treatment. He appeared, at least to me, to desperately want to restore his family. He never just shrugged it off. He beats himself up in public – albeit in an uncomfortable monotone.

Yet even the suggestion that Tiger is trying to be a better person over the past year leads to a flood of emails claiming I’m naïve and it was all done only in an effort to save his endorsement potential.

This is the hole Tiger Woods hasn’t been able to dig himself out from. By not addressing the situation in a way and at a level the public wants, he’s been unable to move on. It appears the burden of that has, in turn, hindered his once indomitable golf game.

One year ago we discovered a new side of Tiger Woods. We’re still waiting to see the new, new side. Then much of the public can get back to dealing with him in the old way.