For Tiger, the 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.
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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.