The golf world is still rooting for Tiger Woods.
Fans of the game would love to see the Tiger of yore, swinging away and winning majors, breaking records and dominating the field. Everyone loves a comeback, or a good redemption story.
And people in general would have one less thing to shake their heads at if the demons of 2009 could just be exorcised forever.
Unlike with some famous types, who have a certain something about them that begs for comeuppance, you would’ve been hard-pressed to find many people who took pleasure in Woods’ plummet from grace.
He wasn’t just some athlete who was caught cheating. That’s, shall we say, par for the course.
Woods was more than just one of the most famous, highest-paid sports stars in the world. He was a history-maker, a barrier-smasher, a symbol of potential, hope and all the rewards a person can reap if, talent obliging, they work hard and make the most of opportunity.
At its best, his golf game was considered super-human. Unfortunately, a lot of people would attach that label to the man himself—an all too common mistake we make with celebrities that’s almost guaranteed to disappoint eventually.
Perhaps Woods too thought himself impervious to the pitfalls of acting recklessly. But in the almost eight years since he crashed his Escalade into a tree in his front yard, a period not without its triumphs and trophies but without the glory of a single major title, Woods continues to live very much in the shadow of the events that changed the trajectory of his life and career forever.
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To make a really long and convoluted story short, Woods’ morning-after-Thanksgiving-2009 accident occurred just days after the National Enquirer reported he was having an affair. In the wake of the crash, Woods called what happened “a private matter” and denounced any rumors that Elin Nordegren, his wife of five years and mother of his two children, had taken a swing at him with a golf club before he got in the vehicle.
But that was hardly the end of it, as Woods was ultimately exposed, one allegation at a time, as a serial cheater.
He disappeared after Christmas, reemerging in February 2010 with a lengthy apology to pretty much anyone who had ever had any faith in him—family, friends, fans, sponsors, competitors, etc.—and the admission he’d spent 45 days in in-patient treatment.
“I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did is not acceptable. And I am the only person to blame. I stopped living by the core values that I was taught to believe in,” he said in a televised statement on Feb. 19, 2010.
“I knew my actions were wrong. But I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself. I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled…I was wrong. I was foolish. I don’t get to play by different rules.”
And so he went about moving on with his life.
Though ultimately his lost endorsement tally in 2010 was estimated to be about $22 million (that summer he was still the highest-earning American athlete that year, per Forbes, with $90 million), longtime sponsor Nike stuck with him. Woods shot a most somber black and white commercial in which he’s looking straight at the camera while the voice of his beloved late father, Earl Woods, intones, “I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are. And did you learn anything?”
His first tournament back after scandal erupted was the Masters in April 2010, the first major of the year. As always he was the main attraction—yet for more reasons than usual this time.
If he was hoping to just ease back into his old life, Woods was mistaken. Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne delivered a stinging admonishment to the game’s super-star in his annual tournament-opening address, stating that Woods had “disappointed all of us, and more importantly, our kids and our grandkids. His future will never again be measured only by his performance against par, but measured by the sincerity of his effort to change.”
Payne continued, “Is there a way forward? I hope yes. I think yes….We at Augusta hope and pray that our great champion will begin his new life here tomorrow in a positive, hopeful and constructive manner. But this time, with a significant difference from the past. This year, it will not be just for him, for all of us, who believe in second chances.”
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Well, Payne was right. And because of the way sports fandom is, another major title, let alone a triumphant winning streak, would have largely erased Woods’ sins from the public consciousness.
Oh sure, they’d be brought up, but greatest-of-all-time-no-question conversations would be the prevailing order of the day.
Instead, the 14-time major winner finished tied for fourth at the Masters, and though he only missed one cut in 2010, he finished the year winless. Same with 2011.
In the meantime, Elin decided that forgiving, forgetting and giving her husband another chance was an insurmountable task and, after initially trying to work on their marriage, she filed for divorce in August 2010.
“I’ve been through hell,” the Swedish-born former model and nanny told People, saying she was “blindsided” by Woods’ infidelity.
“I never suspected, not a one,” she said. “For the last three-and-a-half years, when all this was going on, I was home a lot more with pregnancies, then the children and my school.”
She said, “I felt stupid as more things were revealed—how could I not have known anything? The word ‘betrayal’ isn’t strong enough. I felt embarrassed for having been so deceived. I felt betrayed by many people around me.”
Graciously, Nordegren added that she wished Woods the best and said she felt “privileged to have witnessed a part of his golfing career.”
At a tournament, Woods told reporters that it was a “sad time,” and he admitted his marital issues had made it hard to concentrate that year.
For her troubles Nordegren’s said to have walked away with close to $100 million in the divorce settlement. She and Woods share custody of daughter Sam and son Charlie.
In 2012, Woods started dating champion skier and Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn while she was going through a divorce with former U.S. Ski Team mate Thomas Vonn.
So, someone who knew all about the pressure of competing, the rigorous training schedule required of a world-class athlete, and how not easy it is to balance those things with a personal life. Seemed like an ideal match—for Woods at least, it not necessarily for Vonn, because of her beau’s past.
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But they seemed to get along famously, and Vonn was seen spending time with Woods’ children as well as meeting Elin (whom Woods has in recent months described as still his “best friend”).
Woods’ golf game started to have more life in it as well. He won three titles in 2012 and in 2013 he won five, and regained his No. 1 ranking on the PGA Tour for the first time since October 2010, when his lack of initial comeback success prompted his slide from the top spot. He was the PGA’s top money earner in 2013 as well, with $8.6 million in prize money.
He got off to an inauspicious start in 2014, however, when he announced he would miss the Masters for the first time in his pro career due to injury following surgery for a pinched nerve in his back. (He had battled painful conditions over the years, including a bulging disk in 2010 and back spasms in 2013. Heck, he practically was playing on one leg when he won the 2008 U.S. Open, his last major title.)
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Woods returned to golf that June at the Quicken Loans Invitational, but he wouldn’t win again for the rest of the year. In 2015 he missed the cut at three of the four majors and underwent season-ending back surgery—another microdiscectomy, same as the previous procedure—that September, as well as a follow-up surgery the next month.
In a lot of pain and with the future of his career hanging in the balance, no wonder his personal life suffered in the meantime.
He and Vonn were broken up by May 2015—and while they called the decision mutual and showered each other with praise, rumors that Woods had cheated—and with the ex-wife of a fellow golfer, no less—were almost inevitable.
Woods’ camp insisted that he did not have an affair with Amanda Boyd, who had filed for divorce from husband Jason Dufner in March 2015, with his agent telling Golfweek, “I couldn’t deny this more vehemently. There is less than zero strand of truth to it. 100 percent false. 100 percent fabricated and zero credence. Absolutely, unequivocally untrue. They are not even acquaintances. It’s absolutely ridiculous.”
Despite the difficulties of dating someone as dogged by the spotlight as Woods was, even when he wasn’t playing golf, Vonn seemed to harbor no ill will toward him as time went on. She told Access Hollywood a year ago, “I still love him. He’s a great guy and he’s a great father. I have the utmost respect for him. I just wish him the best. We’re friends. We’re just two adults that—it didn’t work out.”
She admitted to E! News last October, however, that she still considered him a friend, but dating (and breaking up) was rough.
“It was really hard. The breakup, being together, it was all really hard. It was essentially being in a fish bowl,” Vonn said. “Everybody’s looking at you and judging you and commenting on what they think is right or wrong and it was hard.
“But that’s one thing that made me stronger. Being able to block out the noise and block out other people’s opinions, and honestly it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks as long as you’re happy.”
Interestingly, Vonn’s acquaintance with Elin Nordegren ended up turning into a full-blown mutual admiration society.
“I mean, we spent a lot of time together—I was with Tiger for three years,” the skier told Extra last year after a picture of them hanging out at the Kentucky Derby went viral. “She’s such a wonderful person, such a great mom to the kids and yeah, yeah, it was great to catch up with her and see her over that weekend and we had a great time.”
Woods, determined to play again last fall, intently devoted 2016 to rehabbing his back and getting back into competitive form. As his return date approached, however, he postponed his comeback, saying his game was “vulnerable” and not where it needed to be yet.
On a higher note in 2016, he marked the 20th anniversary Tiger Woods Foundation, which focuses on youth education, provides golf instruction for underprivileged kids and awards scholarship money. He also launched TGR Live, an event and management company, and served for the first time as a vice captain on the U.S. Ryder Cup team—which went on to beat Europe for the first time in eight years.
“I was so excited to play, I wanted to compete…and it’s a hard realization knowing I’m not scoring like I should be,” Woods told Charlie Rose in October, explaining his decision to postpone his return to golf.
“I’ve damaged the body to compete at a high level so many times. This time I took a lot of time off to get it right.”
Rose, meanwhile, marveled over Woods’ comment that his only regret in life was not spending another year at Stanford before turning pro. “Nothing, of all the things that’s happened to you?” he asked with disbelief.
AP Photo/Chris Carlson
“All the things I’ve been through,” Woods insisted, “have been tough, yes, they’ve been tough. But they’ve been great for me.”
This past February, he was back in action but pulled out of the second round of the Dubai Desert Classic with back spasms. He attended the Champions Dinner at August in April but pulled out of the Masters, after which he underwent fusion surgery to relieve pain in his back and leg. He said in a statement, “When healed, I look forward to getting back to a normal life, playing with my kids, competing in professional golf and living without the pain I have been battling so long.”
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On May 24, Woods said in a post on his website that he was feeling better than he had in years.
“I could no longer live with the pain I had,” the post read. “We tried every possible non-surgical route and nothing worked. I had good days and bad days, but the pain was usually there, and I couldn’t do much. Even lying down hurt. I had nerve pain with anything I did and was at the end of my rope.”
He called his long-term prognosis for returning to golf “positive.”
So it was all the more distressing when Woods was arrested in the wee hours of the morning on Memorial Day, police in Jupiter, Fla., having found the golf great asleep in the front seat of his Mercedes-Benz on the side of the road. The vehicle was damaged on the driver’s side and both the front and rear tire on that side were flat.
Woods was booked for alleged DUI and released on his own recognizance. He insisted that he wasn’t drinking; rather, Woods said he had suffered an unforeseen reaction to prescription medication. The police report confirmed that he blew a 0.0 on the Breathalyzer test and a urinalysis showed no traces of alcohol.
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office
“I understand the severity of what I did and I take full responsibility for my actions,” the 41-year-old athlete, who won his first major title 20 years ago, said in a statement. “I want the public to know that alcohol was not involved. What happened was an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications. I didn’t realize the mix of medications affected me so strongly.
“I would like to apologize with all my heart to my family, friends, and the fans. I expect more from myself, too. I will do everything in my power to ensure this never happens again. I fully cooperated with law enforcement, and I would like to personally thank the representatives of the Jupiter Police Dept. and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office for their professionalism.”
He’s due in court July 5.
While the situation certainly could’ve turned out worse (no one was hurt, it appears to have been an isolated incident, etc.), cue the renewed concern for Tiger Woods. And so remains the lingering question of when, if ever, he’s going to feel ready to compete—or whether the next big announcement will be that he’s packing it in for good. Though even if he does play again, it won’t be the same Tiger Woods everyone once thought they knew.
We haven’t seen that guy play in almost eight years.