For Tiger, games are over

Editor’s note: Robert Lusetich covered Tiger Woods this season

for FOXSports.com. His assignment afforded him an insider’s look at

the Woods phenomenon, and his observations will be further

chronicled in an upcoming book to be released in April by Atria

Books.

Since Tiger Woods was but a cub of a boy, golf’s always meant

more to him than anything else.

A few weeks shy of his 34th birthday, golf’s Peter Pan has

finally grown up.

By announcing that he’s taking an extended leave of absence from

that which has meant so much and provided him with even more, Woods

is acknowledging, maybe for the first time, that golf’s just a

game.

A wondrous and alluring one, to be sure, but in the end, coaxing

a little white ball into a hole is far from the most important

thing in life.

It’s a lesson most of us learn in disappointment when the time

comes to apply for a job and finally let go of those childhood

dreams. Tiger’s had to learn it in a much uglier way and I’m not

sure which of us, in the end, has been luckier.

He’s a proud man and I’m sure he’d be willing to trade many,

many of his dollars in order to erase the ridicule and humiliation

he’s suffered through over the past fortnight.

Golf’s going to miss him only in days ending in ‘y’ but he will

be back, whether it be at Torrey Pines for the San Diego Open in

six weeks or for the Masters in April. In the meantime, with the

star on hiatus, we’re going to have to content ourselves with the

understudies as they try to keep the show going.

Not a particularly heartening scenario, I know —

especially given the disaster that was the Tiger-less second half

of 2008 — but Woods has a marriage to save, a family to try

to keep together and a soul that needs healing.

In other words, his priorities are no longer those of an

adolescent.

Friday’s mea culpa statement on his Web site — I don’t

know about you but I’d still prefer to watch him speak those words,

which would only amplify the humanity in them — gives great

hope that the salvaging of the Woods family has begun.

It’s heartening, for me, to learn that it’s even possible.

I was far from convinced that Elin would be even willing to take

him back. As hard as this has been on him, I can’t imagine what

it’s been like to listen to women with very little going for them

tell of not just sex but sharing intimacies with her husband.

The sex, in a sense, could be excused as a physical need, but

what a betrayal it is to learn that your husband was cuddling with

another woman in your matrimonial bed while watching a movie.

It’s heartening, too, that Woods is no longer hiding behind

cold, lawyerly words like “transgressions” but for the first time

admits to “my infidelity.”

Personally, I would have gone with the plural given the

procession of women crawling out from beneath the sheets, but

that’s splitting hairs.

The overarching point is that Tiger Woods is finally taking full

responsibility for his own actions, which is all any of us could

ask of another human being.

And, really, it’s the only way to forgiveness, which I think is

what Woods ultimately seeks.

“I need to focus my attention on being a better husband, father

and person,” Woods wrote.

That last part is for us, his public.

The Tiger Woods we’ve all known for the past 13 years, ever

since he introduced himself with that mesmerizing, Hello, world,

commercial has gone.

If he ever existed.

In that sense, the upheaval of the past two weeks may prove to

be a blessing.

Woods will no longer need to project himself as perfect because

we all know now in far too much detail that he’s not.

And the paranoid handlers around him won’t need to act like

there’s a Machiavellian cabal lurking around every corner to expose

his imperfections.

Of course, it’s not all going to be a bed of roses because at

some point, Woods will make his return to competitive golf and, for

the first time, we’ll be watching him more than his golf ball.

He’ll have to deal with questions and they’ll be difficult. He’s

also going to have to deal with the fact that he may no longer be

the crowd favorite. Not everyone will be willing to forgive him his

sins.

Be sure, it’s going to be a long journey back for Tiger Woods,

not just back to golf but back as a husband and a father.

A long road but shorter now that he’s taken the first step.

Godspeed.