Too much too quickly about Woods

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The passenger was waiting in a long line at Heathrow on Tuesday when he came face-to-face with an Accenture advertisement on the wall showing Tiger Woods walking through the tall grass with a club in his hand.

The man stared for the longest time, then turned away and said solemnly, "I can't believe it."

If this episode ever ends, if the key statistic associated with Woods ever goes back to greens in regulation, one thing is becoming clear.

No one will ever look at him the same.

Ask yourself this question: If you've seen Woods lately in the PGA Tour's commercial on charity, was it jarring?

Almost as shocking as the allegations of infidelity is the swiftness of his fall. For 13 years on the PGA Tour -- longer if you go back to his six consecutive USGA titles as an amateur -- Woods rarely was regarded as anything but an indomitable figure.

Just like that, he has become the butt of jokes. His colleagues, who once spoke about with him reverence, now take pity. Even John Daly feels sorry for him.

Despite being among the most famous athletes in the world, we knew so little about Woods. Now we know too much. Woods managed to keep himself out of the tabloids for years only to be the cover boy now.

The big development Tuesday featured yet another 911 call, another ambulance inside the exclusive gated community of Isleworth at an address everyone now knows. This time, it was to take his mother-in-law, Barbro Holmberg, to the hospital for stomach pains. She was released later Tuesday.

There's no word when Woods might return. His caddie, Steve Williams, told the New Zealand Herald that he expected to be back on the bag at the San Diego Open. That was merely a comment to show he is standing by the boss. Not even his caddie knows when Woods will be back in public.

The last tournament Woods played spoke to his iconic status around the world. He won the Australian Masters before enormous crowds, with so much foot traffic that it kicked up dust from the sandbelt course and caused Woods to wipe the grime from his face.

The woman keeping score on the last day at Kingston Heath whispered to the teenager carrying the scoreboard, "This is the holy grail in golf." Given the publicity and the amount of allegations, does she still feel that way?

Until this salacious saga began Nov. 27 with a car accident outside his home, few embarrassing moments for Woods made headlines.

GQ magazine caught him telling racial jokes. His father once called him the "Chosen One" and said he would do more than anyone to change the course of humanity. A boom mike on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach picked up an obscenity-laced tirade when he hit a tee shot into the ocean. Woods threw a club that bounced into the gallery in Australia. This is what used to pass as a scandal for Woods.

He has been the subject of David Letterman's "Top 10" list twice in the past four months. The first occasion was in August after Y.E. Yang beat him on the final day in the PGA Championship. Back then, the unflattering moment for Woods was about his golf, not his life. Among the top 10 excuses why Woods lost: "Would you practice if you had a hot, Swedish wife?"

Letterman poked fun of Woods again Monday night with the top 10 ways Woods can improve his image. On the list was fixing the health-care mess.

Woods is not the first athlete to be dragged down by what he referred to as "personal failings." It's just that few other examples came as such a shock, even to some of those who are closest to him.

The 33-year-old Woods most likely is just now coming into the prime of his career, already having won 14 majors in pursuit of the record 18 won by Jack Nicklaus.

Accenture, meanwhile, continues to feature Woods on the home page of its Web site. He is standing in the desert rough, surrounded by cactus plants, trying to figure out his next move. "Opportunity isn't always obvious," the headline says.

Now more than ever.


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