Tiger Woods's place in sports history will be discussed for generations. But the enormous outpouring of empathy after his crash may be the most remarkable commentary on a person who has been so many things, driven himself so hard and survived so much, says the writer. Picture: theopen.com
Tiger Woods's place in sports history will be discussed for generations. But the enormous outpouring of empathy after his crash may be the most remarkable commentary on a person who has been so many things, driven himself so hard and survived so much, says the writer. Picture: theopen.com

We finally got to know Tiger Woods, which is why we feel his frailties more deeply now

By Opinion Time of article published Feb 24, 2021

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Thomas Boswell

Whenever the latest grim episode arrived in Tiger Woods's glamorous, victorious, tortured life, I often felt like an old, haunting blues song should play in the background.

Such moments could have accompanied any of his five major back surgeries or his five knee surgeries, his DUI arrest precipitated by too many opioid painkillers for too many injuries or any of a dozen other body-driven-beyond-its-limits ailments that were byproducts of his golf greatness.

"I've got to keep moving. Blues falling down like hail."

Or it might have been his car crash into a fire hydrant on Thanksgiving night 2009 after a domestic dispute, or his subsequent humiliating world-watched news conference, with his mother in the front row, to tell the world about his sex addiction.

Then there was Sunday's weary TV interview with Jim Nantz in which Woods said of his latest surgery on the same region where his spine already had been fused: "This is the only back I've got. There isn't much wiggle room left here."

"I can tell the wind is rising, the leaves trembling on the tree."

Finally, there were Tuesday's images, of his vehicle upside-down in a gully, the front completely torn off, after a single-car accident at 7:12 a.m. Pacific time - Woods, the only passenger, pulled out to safety and in surgery for hours for "multiple leg injuries."

The only thought that kept popping to my mind was the title of that old song: "Hellhounds on My Trail."

I've never been able to figure out exactly what hounds have trailed Woods for so long. But they've been there, driving him or chasing him - who knows which or whether there's a difference - through all his glory and his scandal, his wealth and a face known by half the world.

His shockingly wonderful, tearful and moving victory at the 2019 Masters, after his career had been interred for years, seemed to lay those demons to rest at last. The man who was the greatest athlete in the world, then the most mocked of jocks, then finally one of the most loved and redeemed athletes ever, appeared at peace with himself and the world with him.

That should be our lasting Tiger: chill and friendly with his peers, an almost worshiped mentor to younger players, a teasing, self-deprecating veteran superstar with the media and a totally doting father to his two growing-before-our-eyes children. Make the hounds go away.

At 45 - after a life of complex relationships with his stage parents who had him swinging a golf club on national television at age 2, as well as the demand of his position as the multiracial superstar of an almost all-white pro game of privilege - Woods seemed not only to have matured but to have proved how profoundly people can change. He had picked the areas he wanted to improve - not of his golf game, but of his personality - and, according to many players, actually done it.

The haughty, tightfisted, secretive Woods who profoundly distrusted the world, had a huge yacht named "Privacy" and preferred to intimidate his competitors rather than enjoy their casual company, gradually turned into an altered person - not some fabricated, rebranded rebirth but the adult version of a person who had not been afforded a childhood.

Perhaps being humbled helped. Who pretends to know things like that? Maybe those 11 years between major championships were a kind of personal wilderness; and the profound pride of emerging again at the top of the sport was proof that the 40-something version of Woods was both a champion and a person of whom he himself approved.

For those who have covered his entire career, the evolution of this remarkable, all-too-human, sometimes tormented yet finally admirable person was a constant reminder not to fix others in time, judge them by fractions of themselves or pretend to understand too much. This was a man who fooled the world for years for glossy PR's sake yet on Sunday used his broadcast time to discuss his charities, which he has been developing for almost 20 years.

There was a time, in his dozen-year prime, when those images of an overturned car would have brought forth the world's prayers for a man who didn't want to be known by more than a small core of associates.

There was a time, for several years, when such an awful image, and so many hours of uncertainty about his condition, would have brought out the worst of social media's venom for someone who had knocked himself off his Everest of a pedestal.

But this week, the prayers, and plenty of tears, were for a person whom millions know - really know, finally - and for whom they care, in part because he has been through so much. For years now, we have known that Woods, with his hat on, still looks like the fittest matinee idol and sometimes still can play like A-Game Tiger.

But when he takes off that hat, which he's glad to do, we see the balding head, the gray hairs creeping. We see, and he shares, all those signs that he is every bit his age, in surgically salvaged body, in psychologically examined spirit and in a willpower that, somehow, is still young.

Tiger Woods's place in sports history will be discussed for generations. But the enormous outpouring of empathy - of affection and of hope for everything that is best for him, which appeared after his crash - may be the most remarkable commentary on a person who has been so many things, driven himself so hard and survived so much.

Please, whatever gods may be, call off the hounds.

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