Some thoughts on the similarities and differences between Tiger Woods’ last tournament and his next one:
Woods’ last tournament, in November of 2009, was the JBWere Masters, the official name of what is more commonly referred to as the Australian Masters. His next tournament is the Masters (no further identification needed).
National News Story
Similar, except that the nation in question last time was Australia.
Woods’ Australian appearance was his first in that country since 1998, so it was big news Down Under. And the news angle spilled beyond the sports desk because half of his $3 million appearance fee was paid by the state of Victoria.
Now Woods’ much-reported-on philandering, a strange traffic accident, the loss of corporate sponsorships, a prolonged absence, and a disappearance from public view except for a couple of staged appearances have turned Tiger from a sports figure to a news figure worthy of leading the nightly news.
Woods got $3 million just to tee it up in Australia. He gets nothing for teeing it up at Augusta National.
Of course, when you consider that the fallout of his Australia trip included a National Enquirer story about him flying a mistress halfway around the world to keep him company, which started a chain of events leading to the loss of multiple corporate sponsors, playing in Australia actually ended up costing Woods money.
Presence Of Mistress
Different, we hope.
An alleged Woods mistress stayed in Tiger Woods’ hotel during the JBWere Masters. We don’t expect Woods will be bringing along any female companions to Augusta, unless his therapy has gone horribly awry. But one of Woods’ alleged former mistresses will be appearing at a strip club two-and-a-half hours away in Atlanta during the Masters, and has threatened to come to Augusta.
Absence Of Elin And The Kids
Woods’ wife Elin and their two children didn’t make the trip to Australia—can’t blame her for not wanting to spend 18 hours on a plane with two little ones. Also can’t blame her for not accompanying Tiger to Augusta—for different reasons.
Five months ago, Tiger Woods was known primarily as a great golfer. The rest of his life was a blank slate, because he didn’t let anybody see it. As he gets ready to tee it up in the Masters, he is primarily known as a serial philanderer, the butt of countless jokes and the object of scorn for his behavior. It is true that, as with Kobe Bryant and others, this will eventually pass and his athletic accomplishments will be front and center again. But we’re not there yet. Even down the road, when attention is again focused on his pursuit of 18-plus major championships, nobody will ever think of him exactly the same way again.
Comportment On the Course
Woods’ temper problems grew worse during 2009, culminating in the incident in Australia where he flung his club to the ground only to have it bounce and fly into the gallery. Such incidents were the reason that Tom Watson said in February that Woods needed to “clean up his act” when he returned. Woods, in his apology statement later that month, seemed to agree, saying, “I need to make my behavior more respectful of the game.”
In Australia, Woods was the subject of adulation by golf fans getting to see the best player in the world in person. Even on the hole he bounced his driver into the crowd, he was applauded as he walked off the tee. The reception won’t be so warm in Augusta. He might not have to worry about heckling as much as he would at other venues, but awkward, tepid applause might be the norm, at least until he starts making birdies.
While it wasn’t the heart of the season when he played in Australia, Woods had played the week before at Shanghai after taking a four-week break following the Presidents Cup. But at the Masters it will have been a gap of nearly five months. That’s much more than the two-month gap before the 2006 and 2008 U.S. Open, due in the first case to his father’s death and in the second to knee problems. It’s more like his 2009 return at the WGC-Accenture Match Play after an eight-month absence due to knee surgery. He wasn’t very sharp at that tournament.
The old Tiger Woods unquestionably had more mental toughness than anyone on Tour. The new one went into hiding for so long that people were comparing him to Howard Hughes, and he recently said he was worried about how fans will react to him. He’s been through an emotional wringer (of his own doing, of course), and having been shaken to his core, will he be able to play with the same uber-confidence that he used to? Then again, maybe the golf course will be his refuge and he will be just as tough as ever. Nobody knows, not even Tiger.
The JBWere Masters was sort of a lark, though there was some obligation to give the Australian fans what they came to see. As a non-PGA Tour event, it was almost a paid vacation.
At Augusta, the whole world will be watching as Tiger goes back to work. Not since 2001, when he was shooting for a fourth straight major, has Woods faced this kind of full-court press of attention. Only this time the questions he will have to face (whether he answers them or not) are about unpleasant subjects. And, from a golf perspective, he’s not coming into it tournament-toughened.
Woods won the JBWere Masters, which surprised nobody. A win at the Masters would surprise many.