Woods shamed himself but not game of golf

BY foxsports • March 31, 2010

The azaleas will be in bloom as usual, because there are people who make sure of it at Augusta National. As a bonus this year, Jack and Arnie will reunite on the first tee.

Golf will be played as usual, and by early evening next Sunday, someone will be wearing a green jacket.

The Masters will survive the sideshow born of the sordid tales of Tiger Woods, and that's only fitting.

Because while Woods has shamed himself plenty, he has done nothing to shame the game of golf.

Remember that when the circus begins at Augusta National on Monday, and Woods steps into the cross hairs of the once tepid golf media. Remember it, too, when he steps onto the first tee on Thursday to hit a drive that will formally announce his return to golf.

Yes, he flaunted society's rules of engagement with his bevy of mistresses. He did a terrible thing to his wife and, because of that, a lot of people will never again regard him the same way.

But as the golf season begins anew in the year's first major, life also begins anew for Woods. He'll be back on familiar ground, with a familiar goal replacing some new ones he may have learned in therapy.

And, after four long months spent judging Woods for what he did away from the golf course, maybe it's time to start judging him again for what he does on it.

The game deserves it. So, in a way, does Woods, whose remarkable run over the last 14 years changed the very way the game is played.

I've been among those who have taken Woods to task - and quite regularly - for the way he has handled this whole mess. I find it irritating that he still tries to control the message and portrays himself as a noble figure who somehow went astray around the same time he stopped meditating.

The details of some of his escapades - if true - are even more disturbing. I don't know how anyone can look at the infamous Woods glare now without either laughing or feeling queasy.

But this isn't about morality, or his startling lack of it. We've had plenty of time to digest and debate what Woods did and why.

This is about golf. And, really, that's how it should be as the game returns to one of its most revered places with a story line the late Bobby Jones could never have imagined when he built it.

Expect some commotion, at least outside the gates. The paparazzi will be in town, and so will every kook attempting to latch onto the moment for his or her 15 minutes of fame.

Expect a golf tournament inside, and, hopefully, nothing else.

That's what happened in 2003 when Martha Burk crusaded to enroll a woman at Augusta National. And that's what golf desperately needs now.

I'm among the minority that doesn't think Woods will do well in his first tournament since going into hiding and then into therapy. I think the combination of nerves and rust will not only prevent him from adding another green jacket to his collection, but may send him home before the weekend.

Still, he's got every right to try, no matter what anyone thinks about his personal life.

Yes, he could have been a better golf citizen by stopping occasionally to sign autographs or say hi to a spectator. And, long ago, he should have toned down his penchant for using expletives whenever something went awry on the course.

Woods himself seemed to acknowledge that when he vowed in his first public appearance since his accident to respect the game more.

But he never kicked his ball out from behind a tree when no one was looking, never coughed in his opponent's backswing. As far as we know he's never put down a 4 when he really made a 5.

Though some might argue that his transgressions did, indeed, hurt golf, what they really did was hurt Woods. The game survived without its greatest player because the game has always been about more than just one person.

Someday Woods will be replaced by the next phenom, just as Jones and Palmer and Nicklaus were before him. When that day comes, it will be time to take stock of his career and measure him against the greats of the past.

Those measurements, though, should be based solely on what he did on the golf course. There's no grading curve where Woods loses greatness points because he couldn't stop chasing women.

So go ahead and applaud Woods for the golfer he is. Or go ahead and turn away in disgust.

But remember this:

There's Tiger Woods the golfer and Tiger Woods the person.

One still has some redeeming qualities.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press.


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