Tiger Woods says he is entering ‘chapter 2’ in his career.
I’ll give Tiger Woods one thing.
He’s never conformed with standard practice. I’ve always liked that about him. When he was at his peak, he did things his way, and that ruffled a few feathers. He just didn’t care.
He was well known for practicing in solitude away from the cameras at big events. When he was on British shores for the Open, he was known for playing the first few holes of his practice round in virtual darkness. It caused mayhem for the R&A, the organisers, who had to deal with the backlash of paying punters who had turned up on practice days at 9am to see Woods in the flesh, only to find out he was back in his rented house, feet up on the couch. At the Ryder Cup in 2002, he took his love of team golf to a new level by practising on his own. He even wore different clothes to every other member of Team USA. Talk about sticking two fingers up to the Ryder Cup.
Screw what was expected of him; he had his own gig and it worked. At least until his then wife Elin lobbed that 9-iron at his Escalade in November 2009. When that happened, the game changed. And so did the criticism of his actions.
Now, he’s fair game.
Woods was asked recently if he had any major regrets and, instead of giving a straight up answer, he said his one major regret was “not spending another year at Stanford”. He had to be repeatedly pressed by the interviewer, who was clearly dishing for more, to elaborate. Eventually, he said he regretted his infidelity to ex-wife Elin, saying he’d “made a bunch of mistakes”. It took a long time to get there, put it that way.
But that’s Tiger. When you strip away the layers, he’s a complex person.
We were reminded of that just recently when he announced he was making his comeback at the Safeway Open, the opening event of the PGA Tour season, followed by the Turkish Airlines Open, one of the European Tour’s Final Series events.
He’s not injured, then?
He turned up at the Ryder Cup in the unfamiliar role of vice-captain - a role he would have smirked at in days gone by - and did his best to ignore the press. Rumour has it he was routinely asked by the US team to hit some shots on the range at Hazeltine, but refused.
Not long after, he pulled out of both comeback events, saying his game was ‘vulnerable’. To make matters more complicated, Jason Day said Woods’ back was ‘sore’.
Injured? Vulnerable? With Woods, you never really know what to believe. Hank Haney, his former coach, hinted in his book, The Big Miss, that Woods loves the drama and, more importantly, the attention. Whether it’s unfair or not, he is in the spotlight more than any other player and is talked about more than any other player. He is Tiger Woods, the only player since the late Arnold Palmer who has transcended the game. He is deserving of the coverage, whether he likes it or not.
His recent major TV interview showed him wearing a small pin on his jacket with the logo of his new business venture, TGR, a rebranding of sorts. For some, it was a wise business move, something we better get used to in the coming years. For others, it was a missed opportunity to show some love for Palmer. Woods did not attend the funeral, and most players chose to wear Palmer’s iconic umbrella pin as a mark of respect. Some US golf scribes thought he could have redeemed himself in that interview. Whether it was a subconscious decision or not, he left himself open to criticism.
And such is the life that Woods now leads. With his career at a very obvious crossroads - he prefers to refer to it as ‘chapter 2’ - he’s beginning to attract discussion on all fronts, not just the state of his game. If you listen to those close to him, his game is in good shape. Jesper Parnevik said Woods was ‘flushing it’ in practice session at Medalist Golf Club in Jupiter. But, to Woods, it wasn’t enough to make a comeback on the big stage.
I said last year Woods would call it quits by the end of 2016. Personally, I don’t think he’s got the game - both physical and mental - to compete at the top anymore, and he knows it. The only thing keeping him going is ego, and I don’t begrudge him that last straw at all.
Woods has, for years now, become skilled at talking himself down. This is very different from the times he said he discussed trying to win every event he entered (he wasn’t joking, either). His good friend Notah Begay said this time last year that Woods knew the “sun was setting” on his career. It might take one more comeback before he realises the
sun has already set.