Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Roving eye of the Tiger has left millions of fans betrayed

The lurid revelations about his marital 'transgressions' with six women (and counting) have left superstar Tiger Woods' wife Elin feeling cheated. She is not the only one, writes John Laverty

Ever wondered why the late George Best was so universally popular? The guy was, after all, a chronic alcoholic and a serial womaniser; hardly your archetypal 'role model.'

Yet it was this very dichotomy - the extraordinary sportsman, but very ordinary man with all-too-human feelings and failings - that endeared the Manchester United and Northern Ireland football maestro to millions.

Bestie, who died four years ago aged 59, was many things - gifted, intelligent, witty, charming, charismatic, unreliable, frustrating, occasionally hurtful - but hypocritical? Never.

What you saw with George was exactly what you got. He didn't pretend to be someone else; moreover, he never wanted to be anyone else.

As a former sports editor of this newspaper, I've written many articles about the Belfast Boy. A few about Tiger Woods, too, the most memorable being seven years ago following the Open Championship at Muirfield.

I say 'memorable', not because the piece was anything special, but because of the outrage it prompted from the superstar's fans.

And here's why: among other things, it had the temerity to suggest that Woods might not be the god some people would have you believe; that within the undoubtedly sublime golfer could well lie a rather ordinary human being whose pristine, flawless image was manufactured by his agents and maintained by a group of toadying, sycophantic, fawning disciples in the media.

At that time, you didn't have to look too far for examples of this deification; as Tiger's Open challenge petered out on a disastrous third day on the Scottish links, the following gems were trotted out:

l"Tiger can be anything he wants to be" - one expert's reasoned view on news that bookies were taking bets on Woods becoming US President;

l"Woods is unbeatable at majors" - another's rather ironic assessment of a player who, at that particular stage of his career, was anything but invincible in those tournaments;

l"It's not about winning The Open, it's all about beating the Tiger" - and there was me thinking that, for anyone who has ever lifted a nine iron, it WAS all about winning The Open;

l"If anyone can master the elements, it's Woods" - spoken on a day when many of other competitors DID master the elements, and Tiger shot a calamitous 10 over par 81 in the howling wind;

l"In the end, it was Mother Nature who beat Tiger" - the informed view of former Open champion Nick Faldo, who conveniently forgot to mention that ultimate winner Ernie Els - and 26 other mere mortals - had actually finished ahead of the American.

l"No one had prepared better for this tournament than Tiger Woods" - yet another subjective, non-scientific - and patently inaccurate - comment being passed off as fact by the myopic, tunnel-visioned acolytes, who liked nothing more than to smear the billionaire in hyperbolic honey.

It's rather ironic, now the shimmering halo has slipped, the mistresses (or 'birdies') are crawling out of the rough and the headlines are getting more lurid, that many of those same commentators are falling over themselves to explain that, actually, they always knew 33-year-old Woods was a far-from-flawless character. That probably says a lot more about them than it does about him.

It also reveals what a magnificent job his image-conscious agents IMG and Nike have done since Eldrick Tont Woods was a mere cub.

There was an early threat to the wholesome, butter-wouldn't-melt persona when the young, handsome Californian gave an interview to Esquire magazine, which noted that he was actually a foul-mouthed individual with a penchant for obscenity and blasphemy.

That was over 12 years ago - and no one has been granted similar access since.

The damage was quickly repaired, with Tiger aggressively repainted as the clean-cut, polite, modest, saintly, all-American boy-next-door-type everyone would want their daughter to marry.

Ultimately, Scandinavian au pair Elin Nordigren was given the honour and she bore him two cute children. His relentless pursuit of Jack Nicklaus's 18-majors haul continued and the money, lucrative endorsements - and compliments - kept pouring in.

But sex-crazed Tiger harboured a plethora of guilty little secrets, and now the prowling cat, so to speak, is out of the bag, the image tarnished beyond repair.

Woods' subsequent, clumsy and rather belated mea culpa about 'transgressions' throughout his five-year marriage did little to limit the damage; if anything it made things worse, coming across as the arrogant bleatings of an aloof man more irritated at being caught than genuinely remorseful about the pain he has brought upon his wife and family.

We'll never really know why famous, fabulously wealthy people do these things because, frankly, most of us are not famous and fabulously wealthy ourselves and cannot fully comprehend the mindset of those who, to quote from rock band Dire Straits' biggest hit, get their money for nothing and their chicks for free.

Perhaps they do it simply because they can and because, at that stratum of society, it's a lot easier to succumb to temptation than resist it.

The man who has been the world's number one golfer for a staggering 576 weeks is merely the latest in a long line of talented and apparently clean-cut sportsmen we thought were too good to be true - and ultimately discovered we were right.

Think, for instance, of Canada's short-lived pride and joy as their rags-to-riches hero Ben Johnson became the fastest-ever human at the Seoul Olympics, only to have their illusions lacerated two days later than he was revealed as a lying, steroids-addled drug cheat?

Or the humiliation of the South Africans on finding out their finest sporting ambassador Hansie Cronje, charismatic captain of the Springboks cricket team, born-again Christian, loving family man and all-round good egg, was really a corrupt, match-fixing, money-grabbing, ungodly, carousing monster. Dare I mention tennis star Andre Agassi?

Ultimately, Woods will probably weather this particular storm better than the one that famously knocked him off course at Muirfield back in 2002.

Although he is supposedly "unbeatable at majors", he has won only two of the last 10 - but has more than enough time to get the five needed to confirm his standing as the greatest golfer of all time.

That's really all he's ever wanted to be remembered for - but, unfortunately for him, the Tiger legacy will now contain other, rather more unseemly, baggage.

He cheated not only his wife and family, but millions of others around the world. It's not something they'll easily forget.

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