Originally created 04/01/97

There's another side to the Tiger phenomenon

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - Duty compels us to report that Tiger Woods is flawed, after all. The more he plays golf, the more he comes across as just another youth of 21 who doesn't have all the answers.

Naturally, you and I were different at that age, and we didn't have $60 million in the bank. But money never could buy brains, which is why this Woods kid keeps screwing things up, almost as if to spite perfect people like us.

Woods bungled another assignment Sunday, when he lost the $3.5 million Players Championship. A lot of other golfers didn't win it either, of course. A lot of other golfers didn't even challenge, because Steve Elkington led wire-to-wire and beat the field by seven strokes and Tiger by 17.

But the other players get the benefit of the doubt. They didn't win. Tiger lost. Not only that, he lost his fifth straight tournament since he avoided losing the Mercedes Championship in early January.

That was the first event of the PGA Tour season, and Woods got lucky there, because it was shortened by rain. Since then, he's been awful. Why, this week, he twice shot his worst round of the year, 73, and didn't break 70 in his other two rounds. Might be the beginning of the end for Tiger.

I'd like to tell you that America's new cult hero is faring better off the course, but I can't. In fact, any day now, you'll be seeing Tiger Woods' face on the cover of GQ magazine, which includes an up-close-and-personal profile that will knock your socks off.

In the story, Tiger tells dirty jokes, uses foul language and even discusses the male anatomy. Can you believe that? Doesn't Woods know that when America creates a sports hero, he or she has to be programmed to fit our image and never stray. Forget that he's still a kid. He's our kid.

I know when I was 21, I never said anything I might not care to see in print. I never said or did anything stupid, period, because I was perfect, as you were. And that's probably why we have trouble with the Woods phenomenon.

Personally, I'd feel a lot more comfortable with Woods if he didn't have quite so much fun. I mean, he obviously loves golf, which is annoying enough. But when he starts smiling at galleries and pumping his fists after good shots and throwing a club every so often after a bad shot, that's off the charts. Hold that charisma, young fellow.

We want our athletes dull and unemotional, right? I suggest Woods study some of those plastic Olympic prodigies. You know, like the teen-age skaters and gymnasts who starve themselves, train 15 hours a day, and never laugh unless it's on a cue card, as part of their routine.

I bet they'll never be caught talking trash in GQ. Most of them don't talk, period, unless their trainers tell them what to say. Tiger could learn from that. He wants to enjoy himself and entertain us, too. He wants to be 21 without acting like 51, burned out and angry about the adolescence he must surrender so he can be packaged as perfect.

Pretty lofty goals, but, like I warned, this Tiger character is an accident waiting to happen. He signs autographs for kids, he endears himself to fellow pros twice his age, then he goes and outdrives them by 60 yards.

There's still time for Tiger Woods to wash his mouth out, get rid of that personality, and fall into line. He's made enough mistakes, shown enough frailties. If he keeps this up, he might wind up merely as a great golfer who was also just another normal human being instead of a bloodless robot.

What a shame. And he could have been so perfect.

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