Ridiculed Tiger faces difficult path back

Tiger Woods, a global punch line for jokes in the wake of a humiliating personal scandal, must cope with being a target of ridicule before he can hope to regain his mystique as the world’s top golfer.

Consider some of the internet humour that over the past 10 days has turned the world’s first billion-dollar athlete into a laughingstock and forced him to learn the hard way that money can not buy happiness: Woods drives well on a fairway but doesn’t fare well on a driveway. Rivals want to know the best club to beat Tiger. He hit a tree and a hydrant because he couldn’t decide between a wood and an iron.
His new nickname is Cheetah.

There are video what-ifs of how a dispute between Woods and his wife Elin might have looked and gossip-page reports of multiple women linked to all manner of extra-marital betrayals by Woods.

Privacy that Woods spent years protecting was shattered early on November 27 when he was taken to hospital after driving into a hydrant and a tree.

Woods denied the most sordid of stories as to what led to the accident, but hours after a voice mail was released by a woman claiming to have had an affair with the golf superstar, he released an apology for undetailed “sins”.

“I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart,” Woods said. “I’ve not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves. I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect. I am dealing with my behavior and personal failings behind closed doors with my family.”

Woods often talks of learning from defeat after missing out on a golf title, but the lessons from this incident figure to dictate a major turning point in his life, even if the drama plays out behind mansion doors in a gated community.

Love, trust, loyalty and respect are not prizes that can be won on a golf course. Unlike a tournament title, once they are lost there is no guaranteed chance to reclaim them next year from wives, children, parents or supporters.

Woods will not return to golf until next year, when the world will focus on how well he performs after the scandal, just as it did earlier this year when he came back from a knee injury.

How well Woods the man handles the mess that his private life has become will likely determine how well he plays when he returns and whether or not he can recapture any level of the respect he spent a lifetime building.

“He’s going to have to deal with it,” Irish star Padraig Harrington said. “That’s the nature of the fact of being the number one sportsman in the world. You have to take it with the territory.”

With 14 major titles, Woods is only four shy of the all-time record total won by his boyhood idol, Jack Nicklaus, and has 82 triumphs worldwide with enough income to retire without ever picking up a golf club again.

Woods also could focus upon his golf to escape the spectacle, finding relief in the comeback challenge. Next year’s first three majors are at Augusta National, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews—all places where Woods has won majors.

“He’s going to take a little bit of a shot, but as far as bouncing back, we all know what kind of person and player [he is] and how hard he works at things,” US PGA veteran Steve Stricker said.

“I expect him to come back and be the old Tiger. I’m sure he will bounce back, but it’s going to be hard on him for a while.”

Hecklers in galleries figure to have a field day with Woods, who was greeted in the past with yells of “You’re The Man” after many a tee shot.

“Is this going to make him stronger? We don’t know. We’ll find out,” said US veteran Kenny Perry.

“Is this really going to get inside his head little bit and really going to mess with him? I don’t know how the crowd’s going to attack him,” Perry added.

“Are they going to verbally abuse him out there on the golf course? We don’t know.”

American Stewart Cink, who set aside emotions to beat 59-year-old Tom Watson in a British Open playoff at Turnberry in July, has faith that Woods will be unharmed on the golf course and deal with the personal issues over time.

“I don’t think that whatever comes out of this will affect his golf,” Cink said. “He’s a professional and part of being a professional is to separate your personal life from what you do on the course.

“It’s not always real easy, but he’ll find a way and he’ll be fine.” - AFP

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