Woods voted top athlete of the decade

As sports go, it wasn’t close: Tiger Woods was famous for his

golf long before he became infamous for his personal life.

For 10 incomparable years, no one ruled a sport like Woods. He

won 64 tournaments, including 12 major championships. He hoisted a

trophy on every continent where golf is played. And those 56 titles

in one decade on the PGA Tour? Consider that only four of golf’s

greatest players won more in their entire careers.

Even as a shocking sex scandal changed the way people look at

Woods, the records he set could not be ignored.

Woods was selected Wednesday as the Athlete of the Decade by

members of The Associated Press in a vote that was more about his

performance on the course than the self-described transgressions as

a person.

“The only reason I wouldn’t vote for Tiger Woods is because of

the events of the last three weeks,” said Mike Strain, sports

editor of the Tulsa (Okla.) World. “And I didn’t think that was

enough to change my vote. I thought he was a transcendent sports

figure.”

He received 56 of the 142 votes cast since last month by editors

at U.S. newspapers that are members of the AP. More than half the

ballots were returned after the Nov. 27 car accident outside his

Florida home that set off sensational tales of infidelity.

Lance Armstrong, a cancer survivor who won the Tour de France

six times this decade, finished second with 33 votes. He was

followed by Roger Federer, who has won more Grand Slam singles

titles than any other man, with 25 votes.

Record-setting Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps came in fourth

with 13 votes, followed by New England quarterback Tom Brady (6)

and world-record sprinter Usain Bolt (4). Five other athletes

received one vote apiece.

Woods, who has not been seen since the accident and has issued

only statements on his Web site, was not made available to comment

about the award.

Seattle Times sports editor Don Shelton discussed the vote with

his staff, which he said was torn among Woods, Armstrong and

Federer. He voted for Woods in the early stages of the scandal.

“I’m not sure I would change my vote,” Shelton said. “I

looked at him as an athlete, I really did. I separated him a little

bit. If this had happened three years ago and his performance had

dropped off, that’s a different factor.”

Allegations of rampant affairs starting come out just 10 days

after Woods won the Australian Masters before record crowds for the

82nd worldwide victory of his career. He received a $3 million

appearance fee in Australia, and the government estimated a return

of $20 million from the number of fans Woods attracted.

Few other athletes changed their sport, from TV ratings to

galleries to prize money.

A new image emerged quickly in the days following his

middle-of-the-night accident, when he ran his SUV over a fire

hydrant and into a tree. He became the butt of late-night TV jokes,

eventually confessed to infidelity and lost a major sponsorship

from Accenture.

“Seems an unlikely time to vote for him, but he had more

influence and impact on the complete decade, 2000 to 2009, than any

of the other athletes,” said Paul Vigna, sports editor of The

(Harrisburg, Pa.) Patriot-News.

AP members found Woods’ work on the golf course over the last 10

years without much of a blemish. He took an early lead in the

balloting, and continued to receive roughly the same percentage of

votes throughout the process.

“Despite the tsunami of negative publicity that will likely

tarnish his image, there’s no denying that Woods’ on-the-course

accomplishments set a new standard of dominance within his sport

while making golf more accessible to the masses,” wrote Stu

Whitney, sports editor of the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader.

“The only proof needed are the television ratings when Tiger plays

in a golf tournament, compared to those events when others have to

carry the load.”

The fall was as spectacular as his rise.

Woods won the career Grand Slam three times over in the decade,

the last of his 12 majors at the 2008 U.S. Open despite playing on

a mangled left leg. He twice won the British Open at St. Andrews,

the home of golf, by a combined 13 shots.

“It seems like everybody has jumped on the ‘slay Tiger’

bandwagon,” said Dan Lebowitz, executive director at the Center

for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University. “I

understand the dynamics around that. But I’d also like people to

recognize how great he operated under a microscope for a long

period of time.”

Woods won more than one-third of all the tournaments he played

this decade, an unprecedented rate in golf. Nine of his victories

were by at least eight shots. He was No. 1 in the world ranking for

all but 32 weeks in the decade.

He did his best work in the biggest events. Along with his 12

majors this decade – he has 14 overall, four short of the record

held by Jack Nicklaus – Woods was runner-up in six other majors. He

won 14 times out of 27 appearances in the World Golf

Championships.

Woods finished the decade with $81,547,410 in earnings from his

PGA Tour events, an average of $482,529 per tournament.

“No athlete dominated a particular sport the way Tiger Woods

did this decade,” said Phil Kaplan, deputy sports editor at the

Knoxille (Tenn.) News-Sentinel.