death of the career of Tiger Woods.
Eldrick "Tiger" Woods burst onto the golfing scene
as a child prodigy, earning guest appearances on American TV shows as a toddler and wowing the audiences with a perfect swing.
Then, into his late teens, he won three US Amateur titles in
a row between 1994 and 1996, after which he left Stanford University in order
to enter the professional ranks. With a $40 million endorsement deal already in
his Nike-branded bag, he had little to fear for not having completed his degree.
Almost immediately, Woods made an astonishing impact. Two
victories in his first three months, ensured that he would not have to submit
himself to the grind of playing through the US Tour's qualifying school.
the field to win by 12 shots, a feat made all the more incredible when you consider he had slipped to four over par after
his opening nine holes on Thursday.
Nike, cashing in on their biggest investment in years,
produced a series of iconic adverts based around the catchphrase "I
am Tiger Woods", adverts which turned the golfer into a global superstar
at the age of 21. Golf became more than just a game for ageing white males, acquiring
a street cred that would have seemed impossibly unlikely even a couple of years previously.
But behind the early success, there was always human frailty: his nervous showing at the press conference announcing he was
turning pro - "Hello world", he said to the massed ranks of the media
- suggested unease with the fame that went with the glory. A tasteless joke
told to a GQ magazine writer during an unguarded moment saw Tiger widely
criticised in early 1997; after that, there would be no more unguarded moments, and a prickly
relationship with the media ensued that lasted throughout his career.
Back on the course, however, Woods only got better with age. A swing
revamp with coach Butch Harmon followed that initial Masters victory, and a two
seasons later the Majors starter pouring in. Victory in the 1999 US PGA was
followed by the unique Tiger-Slam: starting with the 2000 US Open, Woods won four
Major championships in a row, a feat unprecedented in professional golf.
More Majors followed the year after, and with his place in
history already guaranteed Woods seemed ready set to set the bar so high that no
golfer would ever have a chance of surpassing his records.
10-tournament drought in the Majors set in, blighting his seasons in 2003 and
2004. Many pointed to his burgeoning relationship and subsquent marriage to Swedish model Elin Nordegren in late 2003
as the reason for his slump, others to the constant distractions that came with
being touted as sport's first billionaire in waiting.
The man himself wasn't bothered by the chatter, however, announcing that he was back with what became his most famous moment on a golf course: the chip-in on the
16th that teetered on the hole before dropping at the 2005 Masters. The shot helped him
win and put his career back on course, even if a cold analysis of the scoring that year would
point out that Woods had then bogeyed 17 to end up in a play-off with Chris DiMarco. He had won, but it wasn't until he followed up with a win at The Open in St Andrews a few months later that he was once again convincing.
And with the slump definitely over, four more Major titles came to
Woods in the space of the next three seasons. Woods was the undisputed best golfer ever, and once more looked set to overhaul Jack Nicklaus's record of 14 Majors.
Then, an incredible thing happened. Woods went into the
final day of the 2009 US PGA Championship with a two-shot lead - and blew it.
Never before had Tiger failed to convert a lead into
victory, and indeed all of his Major victories saw him enter the final round at the
front of the field. Yet unheralded Korean Yang Yong-eun overhauled the great
man with ease on the final Sunday, despite the fact that the two were paired together in the final
group, suggeting a level of frailty existed in Woods that had never before been
emerged three months later, when a late night car crash on Thanksgiving
kickstarted a series of events that saw Woods's private life splashed all over every
media outlet in the world. A series of extra-marital affairs were revealed, with a seemingly endless stream of prostitutes, porn stars and cocktail waitresses claiming he had conducted affairs with them.
With his life in tatters, Tiger walked away from the game
for a few months to re-gather himself, then made a tearful public apology in an
attempt to save his marriage. Some offered sympathy for a man clearly
overwhelmed and shamed by his baser urges; others took delight in the fall from
grace of a man who had used everything in his life - even the disembodied voice
of his late father, in one shocking 2010 Nike TV advert - in the creation and promotion of his own legend.
The final straw came in August 2010, when Woods first missed
the cut at the Bridgestone Invitational - a tournament which he had won seven
times in 10 starts, and at which he had never finished lower than fourth - followed by...
- - - -
...followed by what? That is the question.
Obviously, Bunker Mentality can't yet finish that sentence.
The way Woods is playing he seems certain to miss the cut at
the US PGA Championship this week, particularly given that it's at Whistling Straits,
a brutally-demanding course that he struggled on in 2004, and one that is particularly unforgiving
of wayward driving.
If he doesn't make it through to the weekend, Woods is
almost certain not to play in the Ryder Cup. Captain Corey Pavin would love to
have an in-form Woods on his team, but he won't pander to a misfiring one by offering a wildcard - and
in any case, Woods will no doubt be begging the skipper not to oblige him to play in an event that he has always loathed.
There is another possibility. Tiger might march to a misery-defying
victory this Sunday, playing his way onto the Ryder Cup side, and then inspiring the USA
team to a first victory on European soil since 1993.
So, Tiger - how will this story end? It's over to you.
- Tiger Woods