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We all want the perfect ending to Tiger’s obsessive tale

Tipping Point: An appealing narrative –  the old champion on comeback trail

Tiger Woods knows about shame. He’s even tried absolving himself with to-camera confessions. So, just wait while I get the gaze right, and take a deeply sincere breath: I might watch some of the US PGA this week – and I’d quite like Tiger to win.

Gawd, the shame of being so clichéd, following the pack, buying all this comeback sentiment. I feel so slutty, you know. But getting it off my chest through commercial media helps. It allows healing to begin.

Okay, that’s crap. Apart from mortification at anticipating Woods winning a 15th Major title. That is true, and embarrassing. Because I don’t like Woods.

There’s always a lengthy rogues’ gallery of unappealing characters in sport. But from this distance just about the most famous figure of them all has always seemed particularly unlovely.


It’s got nothing to do with his sexual past. Ironically, that always seemed one of the more human aspects to Tiger’s weirdly obsessive tale. There’s nothing there to brag about obviously. But in terms of behavioural analysis, rich famous young guy putting it about is hardly a novel concept.

As the US comic Bill Burr once observed, how the hell can the vast majority of us comprehend the level of temptation put in front of a figure like Woods.

“I golf,” Burr pointed out. “I don’t walk off the 18th hole and there’s a busload of Scandinavian women waiting to f-ck my brains out – ‘sorry ladies, gotta get home to the wife’!”

No, the real revelatory bit about Woods after he got caught out on that skeevy behaviour was his reaction.

Corporate mode

Instead of privately getting on his knees and pleading forgiveness from those closest to him, he went into corporate mode, staring out at a prurient world from in front of those famous blue curtains and robotically mouthing his damage-control script.

Much of what’s been written and said about Woods the individual off the golf course suggests that was no aberration either. Too many portraits of a tight-fisted, vindictive, graceless, self-absorbed, surly jackass have been painted for them all to be wide of the mark.

But from a sporting perspective the sweep of a story that could see Woods win once again at golf’s highest level a decade after his last Major victory is just too epic. Even if you think Tiger’s a tool you can’t not watch.

One of sport’s most appealing narratives has always been the old champion on the comeback trail. It isn’t so long since Woods physically could barely get out of bed. So even with an unappealing hero it’s hard not to get swept along in the feel-good tide.

Of course, he’s supposed to be a changed character now too, his personality apparently transformed by recognition of how close he came to being professionally finished. So now we have cuddly Tiger, all smiley and nice, which everyone’s lapping up like syrup.

If for over a decade awe was the primary emotion much of the public had for Woods, it was never much diluted by affection. Neither the performance or the performer lent itself to Seve-style liking. But there’s nothing like a redemptive storyline to get people on your side. How can you not bite the hook? There’s so much tied to it. Even I’m swallowing this stuff, and I don’t like golf.

Too pat

Admittedly this new Tiger seems a little too pat sometimes, like a board-approved, age-appropriate counter-profile to his hard-ass youth. Maybe behind it still lurks the skank of yore. But who cares when the perfect ending is so close.

Okay, he blew up in the Bridgestone at the weekend. There was even a suggestion his back might be playing up again. But such vulnerability will only add to the sentiment mix when he tees up at Bellerive on Thursday.

Golf desperately wants the perfect ending. When your most famous player might be the bullying bullshit artist in the White House it’s safe to say you have an image problem. Woods’s return has been the perfect shot in the arm to a sport desperate for a boost.

That it should be Woods who emerges as a knight in shining armour will strike many as being as unlikely as his re-emergence as a potential Major winner again.

At the very least it’s a reminder that public popularity often comes down to just sticking around long enough. Familiarity takes care of the rest. For instance Ronaldo’s stupid posturing is now excused in a way that once would have seemed impossible. Neymar could do worse than take note.


Ultimately, though, after scraping away all the schmaltz and dubiousness about the individual, you are still left with an enthralling prospect of watching someone play a sport at a level once more that few if any have ever come close to.

Yes, much of golf’s audience is probably older than Woods himself. And there’s probably an unhealthy resonance among those of us also on the wrong side of 40 about hoping to watch someone show there’s still life in the old hound yet. But I like to think there’s more to it than that.

Because whatever you think about Woods the man, Woods the golfer was a towering talent. And you’d have to have a heart of stone not to get caught up in the idea of such an outstanding facility being rejuvenated. Even if it is golf.

There’s famously no second acts in American lives. But American sport isn’t so categorical. Sport generally is more equivocal than that. It’s part of its magic. And the fact some of us are actually rooting for Woods this week indicates just how magical it can be.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column