Despite everything Woods is athlete of decade
The vote was for athlete of the decade, not husband of the
His greatness on the golf course over the last 10 years was more
than enough to convince U.S. members of The Associated Press that
Tiger Woods deserved the award on Wednesday. His body of work was
simply too large to be erased by the human failings that have been
exposed during the last three weeks.
Role model no longer, he remains one of the great athletes of
Not without some reservations, of course. There had to be some,
because the revelations of the last few weeks bring everything
Woods has done into question except what he did with a set of clubs
and a little white ball.
It used to be so easy. He used to look so perfect.
That’s all changed, and so has the conversation. It can no
longer stop at the end of 72 holes when Woods is holding yet
another trophy over his head.
We once counted the majors and wondered when he’d be declared
the greatest ever. Now we count his mistresses, and wonder if it
will ever end.
Imagine a world that doesn’t include an early-morning crash into
a tree or a wife smashing car windows with a golf club.
If Woods would have only locked himself in his trophy room or
gone to bed early that night, we might not be having this
conversation. Instead, he would be releasing a statement saying how
happy he was that people recognized his extraordinary talents and
that he hoped to continue to provide entertainment on the course
for years to come.
Now Woods is in seclusion, day 20 of the Tiger-held-hostage saga
that seems to enthrall even people who don’t know the difference
between a 7-iron and a pitching wedge. He won’t surface from his
bunker to even acknowledge the award and he’s on an indefinite
hiatus from golf while he tries to somehow repair his image and his
We know now that he’s not what he pretended to be. The carefully
crafted persona was just that, but we fell for the charade because
he seemed so different, so larger than life.
But what he did on the golf course was very real. He took a
niche sport and elevated it to a new status by dominating it so
completely that people couldn’t help but tune in to see what he
might do next.
Woods won major championships by stunning margins, hit shots
that left his fellow competitors in awe, and intimidated anyone who
dared get in his way. He became the first athlete to earn a billion
dollars, and made a lot of the guys who played against him rich,
His putt on the final hole to force a playoff in the 2008 U.S.
Open at Torrey Pines while playing basically on one leg was one of
the great sporting moments, and a lot of Americans paused at work
the next day just to see him finish off the job. Being Tiger Woods,
of course, he did, and the celebration he touched off was muted
only by the sadness the next day when he announced that knee
surgery would keep him out for the rest of the year.
There are a million different numbers that can help explain his
greatness. Fifty-six wins, including 12 major championships, in the
decade compared to 50 wins and five majors for Phil Mickelson and
Vijay Singh combined would be one place to start.
But numbers can’t fully tell this story. To get that you would
have to be listening to the roars on the back nine at Augusta
National or watch the faces of fans lined up 10 deep just to get a
glimpse of him. Better yet, go to any driving range where parents
are trying to teach their kids to be the next Tiger.
Lance Armstrong had a great decade, too, enough to finish second
in the voting. But no one is buying their kids racing bikes for
Christmas so that one day they go out and win the Tour de
Yes, Roger Federer is just as dominant in tennis. Same goes for
Michael Phelps, whom no one pays any attention to unless he’s
swimming for gold in the Olympics or holding a bong at a party.
In a perfect world we would like our athletes to have no flaws.
But we live in a world where even those who masquerade as role
models are very imperfect.
We may never believe anything Woods says again. He may never be
the same player again.
But there is no reason to doubt how great he has been.