by Jeff Skinner
The Tiger Woods Circus, otherwise known as The Masters, starts up today at 2:00pm at Augusta when Tiger Woods will hold his press conference. It’s an odd way to begin a tournament that prides itself on tradition, dignity and decorum. Augusta National and its members have to be choking on their pimento and cheese sandwiches to see their beloved and respected Invitational turned into a circus. No other tournament places such a high premium on good manners and good behavior. From its rules for the patrons, no running please, to its restrictions on commentators, Gary McCord is banned from Augusta; The Members of Augusta make extraordinary efforts to ensure their tournament portrays an air of stateliness and decency. It is ironic that Woods, who has displayed anything but decency and decorum recently, will use Augusta as his springboard back to professional golf.
Woods has been asking us to believe that he has changed his ways and committed to a new way of life. As he restarts his quest towards Jack Nicklaus and his record of eighteen major championships it is difficult to believe anything Woods says now. His previous interviews with ESPN and The Golf Channel were controlled and his answers rehearsed. His first “statement” looked insincere and calculated. Woods and his team of agents and publicists have been working overtime to try a craft a comeback strategy that would get Woods back into the good graces of the fans and more importantly the sponsors that made him the highest paid athlete ever.
Try as they may to rebuild Tiger’s image he will never reach the level of adoration that he had in his pre-scandal days. His image is hopelessly tainted. If Tiger continues to play golf at any level close to what he was previously he’ll probably pass Nicklaus’s major record. He may beat his record but he’ll never come close to matching Nicklaus as a man.
Jack Nicklaus won his eighteen majors while playing against many of the greatest golfers of all time and he was actively raising a family the entire time. He managed to avoid any iota of scandal and controversy his entire career. Just as importantly, Nicklaus treated everyone around him with respect and dignity. Where Tiger has really no use for the media or the fans to a great extent, Nicklaus treated both the media and fans as an important part of the game and his career. Let’s not forget that long before the obnoxious fans of the sixteenth at Scottsdale or the hecklers at Bethpage, Nicklaus was getting booed and jeered at by the fans at Oakmont when he was beating Arnold Palmer at the ’62 US Open. Nicklaus handled the issue with class and poise, much like he has lived his entire life. Let’s see how Tiger and his bodyguard, Steve Williams, handle a heckler or two. Rest assured it won’t be like Nicklaus.
Woods and Nicklaus do have much in common: extraordinary skill and unparalleled focus on the golf course. Few professional golfers have dominated on the course like these two champions. Few have lived so different lives off the course. Nicklaus spent his off time jetting back home for birthdays and ballgames. Tiger spent his off time playing games of a different type.
His philandering has stained his career forever. His association with a doctor known for distributing performance enhancing drugs has cast another shadow on his accomplishments. Granted he is not Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire, but his career is similarly soiled. Yes, Bonds holds the record for career home runs but by most he is regarded as a cheat. Woods and his accomplishments will be forever linked to this time in his life, a time when he was shown to be a serial adulterer, a false role model and a less than adequate father. No such dispersions could be cast towards Jack Nicklaus.
Tiger may well go on to win a dozen more majors and surpass Jack’s record but he’ll never match Jack as a man. To call Tiger the greatest golfer of all time would be inappropriate. The game of golf is based on honesty, integrity and sportsmanship. These values have been absent from Tiger’s game and his life for quite some time. Nicklaus on the other hand has spent his entire career epitomizing these same values. Tiger’s legacy is yet to be written but it is forever soiled by his self-inflicted wounds. He’ll never regain the same image that was once adored by millions. Tiger is no rival to Nicklaus, no matter what he says at any press conference. Sure, he’ll get some new sponsors and make more millions, hundreds of millions, but he’ll just be Tiger Woods; a golfer with a few dozen major championships. He’ll never be Tiger Woods, the greatest golfer of all time. Jack Nicklaus is the greatest golfer of all time. He has proved it on the course and has lived it off the course.