Is the risk worth the reward? In the game of golf it is a particularly pertinent question that must burn in the mind of the most celebrated performers.
Risk and reward come in many guises. For Rory McIlroy, the risk was changing the clubs that made him the best player in the world in order to reap the reward of a £100 million contract with Nike; for Phil Mickelson the risk was refusing to change his game to play The Open, and the reward finally came this summer when the Muirfield conditions finally played into his hands.
Tiger Woods stands accused of a very, very different risk/reward equation this year, as a golf analyst (and former tour pro) by the name of Brandel Chamblee has accused him of one of the worst crimes imaginable in golf: his risk, Chamblee claims, has been playing fast and loose with the rules of the game in order to earn the reward of more wins to take him towards his ultimate career goals.
Woods founded his reputation as a golfer on being the master of the art: a figure who fired at every pin when his blood was up and his swing in the groove, but whose on-course management was outstanding at minimising risk when he knew he was not at his very best. This is a man whose shot selection and club choice was so surefooted, he could have been strolling around his local course on a Sunday afternoon medal when putting the finishing touches to another win somewhere around the globe.
The hallmark of Woods's ongoing greatness was his uncanny ability to play well within himself under the severest heat on Sunday afternoons in the Majors. For the first 12 years of his professional career, Woods won when Woods led. If he was in the box seat heading with one of the big four titles in sight - even if he only had a share of the lead - the rest of the field might as well stay in bed. Forget it. It was only a matter of how many Tiger would win by.
Fourteen times he led or co-led after three rounds, 14 times he ended up as the champion.
That record only ended at the US PGA Championship in 2009, when Tiger lost a Major as unheralded South Korean Y.E Yang reeled him in - but despite that blip, a 14-1 record on Major Sundays remains formidable, and one of the great achievements of a career in which he has won 79 times in the US alone.
Those tournament wins were created with outlandish runs of birdies on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. But they were locked down on Sundays by a man who knew that the way to strangle a field is with a safe-as-houses final round 71, not by attempting a foolish final day fling to go for a 65. At that US PGA Championship he ended up chasing Yang, taking on shots he would never have tried normally, and ended up with a closing 75 that forced him three shots back.
It was a technique that worked in normal events as well: Tiger's career stats show that he has led, or tied for the lead, 57 times on the US Tour. He has won 53 of those events.
Time and tide wait for no man. Not even in the fairly leisurely environs of golf. Woods, a sprightly 38, remains the world's number one, but Majors have been a bit harder to come by as the years have rolled by.
His last Major win came at the US Open in 2008 when he limped around Torrey Pines to usurp Rocco Mediate in a play-off. Back then it looked only a matter of time before he surpassed Jack Nicklaus's haul of 18, but injury and a ravaged period in his personal life - when his exposure as an epic philander gave new meaning to the term raging lothario - set him back a few years. Probably around three years; an eternity in golf.
Swing changes have also taken time to set in, leaving him with a feeling of anxiousness that he might not equal or overtake the Nicklaus record, a figure that seemed his for the taking when he rose to prominence as a swashbuckling 21-year-old in 1997, a figure of the kind golf had never witnessed before.
"There's never been a man with the talent Tiger Woods has," the Gary Player, South Africa's multiple Major winner, recently said.
"When he won the (2000) US Open by 15 shots, he was on his way to destroying all records. He would have won close to 30 majors the way he was going - and then he changes his swing.
"Obviously one is always ambitious and wanting to get better and better and you've got to admire a man for doing that.
"But then he has many coaches (and) this coach is teaching him that, this coach is teaching him this.
"He gets swinging different ways, gets a bit confused, loses a bit of confidence and it takes time to restore it."
This onlooker was in Milwaukee to watch him hit his first drive as a professional player at the Greater Milwaukee Open in 1996. Fresh from collecting the US Amateur Championship for a third straight year, Woods was flanked by so many bodyguards that day it made you wonder if they had unearthed another member of the Beatles without us knowing.
The anticipation before he struck his first has never dulled. Not has his ability to provoke severe debate.
There has been too much emphasis placed on the Nicklaus record. Woods is already the greatest player the sport has witnessed.
He has nothing left to prove except to himself, but there seems to be something within Woods that now makes him only too willing to take risks - a feature that was not apparent in the formative stages of his career.
According to Chamblee, a two-times winner on the US PGA Tour turned Golf Channel analyst, that has led Woods to cross the line between fair play and a willingness to take a risk too many this year. In other words, he has suggested Woods has been guilty of cheating. Or at least insinuated as much.
Chamblee wrote a blog for golf.com giving the players a grade for their efforts this year. It was generally good-humoured, and tongue-in-cheek. Phil Mickelson, for example, got an A+ for winning The Open, getting praise for a game that has "more variety than the spice rack at an Indian restaurant"; while Jason Dufner got an A++ for being "married to one hot woman" and "becoming a verb".
Tiger, by contrast, got an F. Here's Chamblee's reasoning:
"When I was in the fourth grade, I cheated on a math test and when I got the paper back it had '100' written at the top and just below the grade, was this quote, 'Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!'
"It was an oft-quoted line from the epic poem 'Marmion' by Sir Walter Scott, and my teacher's message was clear. Written once more beneath that quote was my grade of "100", but this time with a line drawn through it and beneath that an F.
"I never did ask my teacher how she knew I cheated and I certainly didn't protest the grade. I knew I had done the wrong thing and my teacher the right, but I never forgot the way I felt when I read that quote. I remember when we only talked about Tiger's golf. I miss those days. He won five times and contended in Majors and won the Vardon Trophy and ... how shall we say this ... was a little cavalier with the rules."
But is Chamblee right? Will 2013 be remembered as much for Woods' brush with officialdom as his five Tour wins and returning to the lofty spot of world number one? “I can’t remember another year when it’s happened like this," said Woods himself about his brush with rules officials.
Bunker Mentality decided to look back at his big blunders of the year:
- His most contentious moment of the year enveloped him at the Masters in April when he saw a ball clip a pin before dropping back into the water. Woods should have dropped the ball from where he had hit or on line of entry, but opted to go back a few yards to play the shot. He later boasted that he dropped it two yards back on purpose to enable him to control the distance better. He was handed a two-shot penalty. Many experts said he should had been tossed out of the tournament.
Our verdict: Ignorant, but not guilty.
- During the Abu Dhabi Championship in January, Woods decided he was entitled to take a drop from a plugged lie on a desert course that is more bunker than grass in the Gulf region. He did so without consulting a referee and was later deemed to have called it wrong.
Our verdict: Ignorant: but not guilty.
- Only a few weeks after the Masters came golf's fifth Major in the form of the Players' Championship. He hooked a drive into some water before listening to his playing partner Casey Wittenberg's advice on where he should drop the ball. Not his greatest moment, but he looked away in anguish after the shot leaving Wittenberg as the only reliable source on where to drop.
Our verdict: A bit more suspicious, but again not guilty.
- Then came the BMW Championship in Chicago when he apparently protested his innocence by berating rules officials after being walloped with a two-shot penalty after the ball moved when he plucked a twig away from it. He was shown footage of the incident, but refused to accept the punishment with good grace.
Our verdict: Immature and unprofessional, but again not guilty.
Some will wonder if he is willing to cheat on his wife, would he be willing to cheat on his scorecard? Woods has been the victim of a set of circumstances beyond his control, but there are only too many ready to chastise Woods because they do not like his persona.
There is a more likely explanation, at least in part. He has more run-ins with rule officials simply because he plays more errant shots than he used to, and therefore ends up in places that aren't fit for golf balls. That is just a natural consequence of an elongated career.
The sad thing is that he would have increased his stature immeasurably had he had withdrawn from the Masters in April rather than play on when it was obvious the rules were being bent to keep him in. Walking away would have made him look like the bigger man, and probably rehabilitated his image almost completely in the eyes of all but a few die-hard haters.
Instead, he chose to ignore the glaringly obvious fact that any other player in the field would almost certainly have been disqualified in the same circumstances. If you are going to claim the reward of staying in the tournament when you probably should have headed home, you are going to risk the ire of commentators such as Chamblee calling you out on it.
But that doesn't make it cheating. In the final analysis, Woods seems to be single-minded, irritable, ill-tempered and unprofessional at times, but there are others playing golf who are as bad as Woods. Calling him a cheat is melodramatic. And wrong.