Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Weary Tiger Woods in no mood for war of words

By MARK REASON at Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Run, Tiger, run. Woods turned up at Tuesday's press conference, but he wasn't really there. Tiger looked tired. Tiger looked lonely. Tiger looked an empty man. Even the air around the gifted one seemed hollow.
When Woods emerged from behind the blue curtain in February he was ready to fake the full frontal presidential address. When Woods walked through the middle of the press gang at the Masters last month he was ready to take everyone on. But on Tuesday Woods looked like someone we just made up.
Woods recalled last week's awful golf at Quail Hollow and said with thin irony: "It couldn't get any worse. I teed it up really well, I didn't have any balls fall off tees." It wasn't even gallows humour. There was less life in it than that.
As Woods droned on, the stories kept swirling over his head like the helicopters that never seem to go away. On Tuesday it was revealed that a part-time police officer who has been providing security for Elin and the children has a somewhat seamy past.
The Orlando Sentinel, Wood's home-town paper, reported that Timothy Nash, who regularly guards the family, "resigned from the Orange County Sheriff's Office while facing termination for two incidents, including getting drunk and dragging an ex-girlfriend by her hair out of Rachel's, an adult-entertainment club in south Orlando". Is this fiction? Are we still inventing Tiger Woods?
It may be an odd question, but is there any real difference between Tiger and Rabbit, the fictional hero of John Updike's great modern American tetralogy?
Rabbit Angstrom is a one-time great hoopster who runs from his pregnant wife and child to be with a 'hooker.' Rabbit's an egocentric, a betrayer, a sportsman, a dreamer, a dad of two. The stories of the two men are wondrously similar.
Rabbit gets lost in the trees at the end, Woods gets lost in his own name. Even the words Tiger Woods don't belong to him any more, but have become a tired metaphor for straying from the path, a Tiger lost in the Woods.
And so Woods stares out bleakly into the room of American journalists who only seem to want to know about his swing (he put his ball in the water five times in nine holes during yesterday's practice).
What's the point of a proper question, they seem to ask – you can't nail a fiction.
Ask Woods what he thinks about the Sports Illustrated poll which revealed that 24 per cent of his fellow pros think that he has used performance-enhancing drugs. Woods stares ahead.
Ask Woods how he reacted to that news. He says robotically: "I've never taken it. I've never taken performance-enhancing drugs, never taken HGH, never taken any of that stuff. But everyone is entitled to their opinion."
But that wasn't the question. No one asked Woods to repeat his mantra of denial. The question was about his emotional reaction to the news that a quarter of his fellow pros thought he was juiced up. Wasn't he angry?
Woods smiles and says: "After what's happened in my life?" A lot of people have stopped believing in Tiger Woods. He's just a story now. Even the ink on Woods's status as the world No 1 is beginning to fade.
If Phil Mickelson wins the Players Championship and Woods finishes outside the top five then the Philibuster will take over as the world No 1. Woods doesn't mince up the question as he would have done a couple of years ago. He just says: "I've had it happen before."
You see, it's all part of the story. Once Mickelson cowered at the sight of Woods. Now he has beaten Woods on four of the previous five head-to-heads. Mickelson says: "There's a number of reasons I just don't want to go into. But there has been a change."
The change is in Woods. He doesn't even have the strength left to defend his coach Hank Haney. Woods always blazed when Haney was doubted. Now there is barely an ember. Mickelson has become Mr America and Tiger is just a silly character from an old comic.
But like all superheroes, you know he will be back.

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