Benner/Sports and Golf and Opinion and Sports Business

BENNER: Still pulling for Tiger in spite of his transgressions

July 24, 2010

Let me be the last (quasi) sports journalist in America to weigh in on Tiger Woods. 

And I write this at risk of messing with my own marital bliss because, after all, there are all kinds of right reasons to make Woods the wrong guy to pull for, including the fact that my bride of long standing considers him to be a despicable louse.

Which, of course, he is.

Yet I can’t help myself.

I was a huge fan of Tiger’s before he ran his SUV into that fire hydrant last November, which subsequently opened up his sordid double life to the world for inspection and condemnation. And I am still a huge fan of Tiger’s now.

When he’s playing, I’m watching. And when he’s not, I’m not.

At the recent British Open, I exulted when Woods opened up with a five-under-par 67 on the fabled links of St. Andrews. And I felt sincere disappointment as he gradually fell out of contention over the next three rounds.

I used to joke with my golfing buddies that Woods had the perfect life. He was, by far, the best player of the most confounding game on the planet. Then, at the end of the day, after he’d collected another trophy or filmed another endorsement, he went home to be greeted by his wife, Elin, the drop-dead gorgeous Swedish nanny who, by all accounts, was a wonderful woman as well. 

At least, that was the life we saw. However, it wasn’t the life he lived, the one replete with sexual escapades with bimbos of all variety.

Woods has paid a handsome price for his infidelities. His personal life has imploded and soon, according to reports, there will be a divorce with a seven-figure tab attached to it. For months, my computer in-box filled with Tiger Woods jokes and doctored photos. Comedians, talk shows and “Saturday Night Live” trashed him. The self-induced humiliation he has incurred waits at least one more chapter—the day his two young children are old enough to comprehend what their father has done. In my view, the loss of millions of dollars in endorsements pales in comparison.

Then, on the golf course, for the most part he has been just another player, more often than not humbled by the game he once mastered. Vintage Tiger is still on display, but he is often followed on the next shot by inexplicable Tiger hitting the kinds of mediocre shots that only a high handicapper could love.

Detractors see his lesser skills and point to something else beyond the effects of his shattered personal life, citing the end of his relationship with Canadian doctor Anthony Galea, who has been implicated in providing performance-enhancing drugs—notably, human growth hormone (HGH)—to numerous high-profile athletes.

Thus far, Woods—or his people—have explained the link to Galea by saying the doctor did nothing more than aid Tiger’s recovery from knee surgery. Still, there are those who insist the Woods we’re seeing now is physically diminished from the sculpted Tiger we saw two years ago.

Finally, there is the kinder Tiger, more prone to signing autographs and showing patience with inquiring media, and less likely to on-course vulgarities and fits of temper that caused him to be called out by no less than one of the game’s most respected statesmen, Tom Watson.

Yet, despite his incredible fall from grace—or perhaps because of it—I still find myself in his corner, wanting him to be Tiger again, hoping he can win the four more major championships that would at least tie him with Jack Nicklaus.  

It would be too much to say I feel sorry for Woods. Again, he brought this upon himself. And no matter the size of his impending divorce settlement or the shrunken pile of endorsement dollars, his is still a very, very good life—though, I suspect now, in many ways, a lonely one.

Some will never forgive Woods for his transgressions, unable to separate the personal from the professional. I understand that.

But I also believe in personal redemption and second chances, and so I pull for Tiger Woods, despite my best instincts. 

Honey, forgive me.•

__________

Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Reach him at bbenner@ibj.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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