Tiger Woods has made so many indelible images over the last two decades, it’s hard to pick just one.
For me, it’s him wearing his trademark red shirt delivering an uppercut fist pump with a right leg kick after the final putt of the 1997 Masters dropped. That image – forever frozen on the front of this newspaper under the headline “Historic” – defined a level of greatness we’d never seen before but would soon become familiar.
For some, another picture stands out. It’s Woods without his 100-watt smile, unshaven, hair disheveled with swollen, drooping eyes. That mug shot – taken Monday morning after being charged with DUI near his home in Jupiter, Fla. – defines the latest sad chapter in what has become an all-too-familiar decline of arguably the greatest golfer who ever lived.
It’s heartbreaking, really. There are the many trolls out there gleefully celebrating Woods’ suffering, but most rational humans feel sadness.
“I feel bad for Tiger,” said Jack Nicklaus on Tuesday as he gets ready to host the Memorial Tournament where Woods has won a record five times. “Tiger’s a friend. He’s been great for the game of golf. He needs our help. I wish him well.”
The details of Woods’ arrest are disturbing. His impairment was not because of alcohol, as he registered .000 in two breath tests at the scene. It was because of prescription medicines, of which four (including Vicodin) are mentioned in police reports.
“I understand the severity of what I did and I take full responsibility for my actions,” Woods said in a statement released hours after his arrest. “I want the public to know that alcohol was not involved. What happened was an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications. I didn’t realize the mix of medications had affected me so strongly.”
That mix made him a danger to himself and anyone who might have been on the streets of Jupiter at 3 a.m. The Mercedes in which he was found asleep at the wheel while stopped in the right lane of a public road had sustained two flat tires and damaged rims on the driver’s side and minor damage to the front and rear bumpers.
Woods was cooperative but largely incoherent with the police, unaware of where he was and unable to maintain his balance during field sobriety tests.
The written report is hard to process. The dashcam videos, which are expected to be released today, will certainly be further damning.
It is obvious that Woods, the person, is suffering. His world has never been the same since a Thanksgiving night collision with a fire hydrant outside his home in 2009 that led to the revelations of infidelity and the eventual end of his marriage.
In turn, Woods has been betrayed by his body. Since reclaiming his No. 1 ranking with a five-win season in 2013, Woods has undergone four back surgeries that have essentially ruined the last four years of his career. When he revealed his latest fusion surgery in late April that would sideline him for at least another six months, his language revealed his level of distress.
“I could no longer live with the pain I had,” Woods wrote on his web site. “Even lying down hurt. I had nerve pain with anything I did and was at the end of my rope.”
That the end of that rope would include a toxic stew of prescription meds is no surprise. Despite what he displayed on the course while winning 14 majors in 12 years and 79 PGA Tour events, Woods is only human and susceptible to all the same weaknesses we all have.
What prompted him to get behind the wheel of his car in such an impaired state early Monday morning we may never know. Whether it was a one-time lapse or something much deeper, he needs to wrestle control of himself not only for the sake of his career but the sake of his two children.
“I would like to apologize with all my heart to my family, friends and the fans,” he said. “I expect more from myself too. I will do everything in my power to ensure this never happens again.”
Just five days before this latest rock-bottom setback, Woods wrote that he hadn’t “felt this good in years” and mentioned having “a life again with my kids.”
Woods also said he’s not ready to give up chasing his golf dreams at age 41.
“I want to say unequivocally, I want to play professional golf again,” he wrote.
To that end, this arrest and another public humiliation leaves another scar for him to overcome. Thankfully, his mistake didn’t end in tragedy. He can still fix this. It will require time and new levels of strength, but it can be done.
It’s something he seemed to understand even before this latest fall.
“All I can do is take it day by day,” he said last week. “There’s no hurry.”
That mug shot will certainly haunt him, as will any subsequent police videos. His legions of haters and trolls won’t ever let him live it down.
But it doesn’t have to be the final frame in the life of Tiger Woods. Speaking for the fans who’ve encountered so much joy from Woods’ singular accomplishments, here’s hoping he gets himself well enough to add a few more bright images in his both his golf portfolio and family album before he closes the book on his career.