Tiger Woods has missed most of the season due to his injured left knee. In the past decade, he’s fractured the tibia, torn the ligaments, and had it operated on several times – making it the kind of hamburger more commonly seen on NFL running backs. But he returned this week to play in his first PGA tour event in months. This is big news in the golf world – because without Tiger Woods, there’s barely any golf news at all. Watching golf on TV without Tiger Woods is like…watching golf on TV.
Woods returns ranked 28th in the world – his lowest mark since he was just getting started 14 years ago. So what? The TV ratings will skyrocket. People love him, people hate him – but few are indifferent. His first decade was arguably the greatest any golfer ever had in the history of the game. After winning his 14th major tournament in 2008, the question wasn’t if he would pass Jack Nicklaus’s 18 major titles, but when.
But a funny thing happened. Well, maybe not that funny – especially if you’re his ex-wife. Since Tiger’s sex scandal, he has not won a tournament.
Bacon Theory #342 maintains: You can fool the fans most of the time, and the press some of the time, but you can never fool the guys in the locker room. They know exactly who you are – and they don’t like Tiger Woods. Actually, they don’t even know him. Woods flies in on his private jet, plays his round, then flies out, without talking to anyone. In the clubhouse, every golfer wants their rivals to sign golf balls and flags for their tournaments back home, but Tiger almost never does. He is simply not a good guy.
But they don’t dare say anything, because they need the ratings boost he gives the game, which boosts their prize money and sponsors. But I think everyone is still missing the central question. It’s not his affairs. He’s a professional golfer, not a priest. The scandal cost him plenty of popularity and money, but not a single tournament. It’s not even his left knee. Yes, it might prevent him from beating Nicklaus – but I doubt it. This is a man who won his last major on one good leg.
No, it’s Canadian doctor Anthony Galea, who was arrested in 2009 for allegedly giving performance-enhancing drugs to athletes. Fine, that’s his problem – but it might become Tiger’s problem, too. Tiger admits he met with the shady doctor at least four times that same year. He has always claimed it was for a special blood thinning technique, not performance enhancing drugs – and we have little choice but to take him at his word, because Woods has never tested positive.
But in golf, there is no testing. It is the only major sport where you are not only encouraged to call penalties on yourself, but expected to. And they do – every week. But run afoul of that honor code, and golf will not forget. Hall of Famer Gary Player is still haunted by the accusation that he moved a leaf by his ball in a 1983 exhibition. It was never proven. It doesn’t matter.
That’s why, if anybody ever proves Tiger has taken a performance enhancing drug, he will find both his competitors and his sport uniquely unforgiving. He has no safety net. Who would stick his neck out for this man? Not his fellow pros, the tour officials, or his incredibly loyal caddy of 12 years, Scott Williams, whom he just fired last month.
The seeds of Tiger’s tragic fall might already have been sown. And if it comes to pass, he will lose everything he loves most. No, not his ex-wife, his kids, or even his millions. But his 14 major tournaments. And that, to him, would be a tragedy.