LOS ANGELES: It was a fender-bender that became a train wreck, and one year on from the late-night car crash that sparked a tawdry sex scandal Tiger Woods’ reputation and golf game have yet to fully recover.
Woods was golf’s undisputed superstar last Nov 27, the 14-time major champion fresh from victory in the Australian Masters, he and his wife, Elin, having welcomed the birth of son Charlie in February as they expanded the family that already included their toddler daughter Sam.
When the first confused reports came out, reaction was worry for the player said to be seriously injured.
In fact, Woods escaped serious physical injury, suffering facial cuts and bruises.
But in no time rumors of marital discord were swirling and within a fortnight Woods had admitted to infidelity in the face of public statements from a string of women who claimed to have had flings with him.
It was a shocking fall from grace for a man whose stature in his sport had allowed him to become, according to Forbes magazine, the first pro athlete to earn US$1bil – much of it coming through endorsements.
It wasn’t that Woods was perfect. His temper had been known to flare on the golf course, but his sometimes profane outbursts were seen by fans as the flip-side of his passion for perfection.
While old-school champions like Tom Watson might disapprove, many admirers believed Woods had shown his respect for golf with his intricate knowledge of the game’s history and his own disciplined approach to practice and competition.
The sight of an in-form Woods, striding toward a victory in a round punctuated by fist-pumps had brought a legion of new fans to golf.
Now, instead of chuckling in disbelief at yet another amazing Woods shot, people were laughing at Woods as the punchline of raunchy jokes in forums ranging from the satirical South Park animated television show to Disneyland’s California Adventure amusement park.
Woods’ bunker mentality – his disappearance from the public eye and his refusal to answer questions about what precipitated the crash – only fueled the frenzy.
The Florida Highway Patrol decided the incident was worth nothing more than a US$164 traffic citation, but before the end of the year the whole mess had cost Woods endorsement deals with the consulting firm Accenture and US telecom giant AT&T.
By July, Sports Illustrated would estimate that Woods’ endorsements for 2010 were worth US$22mil less than in 2009.
Other sponsors, including Nike, Tag Heuer and game maker Electronic Arts stuck with Woods, who made his first public appearance of the year in February in a heavily stage-managed televised statement in which he apologised for “selfish and irresponsible” behaviour.
Woods returned to competition for the first time in five months at the Masters, finishing tied for fourth in the friendly confines of Augusta National.
It was soon clear, however, that Woods’ game was in as much disarray as his marriage.
The sixth missed cut of his pro career – at Quail Hollow in South Carolina – was followed by his withdrawal from the final round of the Players Championship with a neck injury.
The US Open at Pebble Beach and the British Open at St. Andrews – venerable venues where he had won before – failed to produce the old magic and nearly every week brought a threat to Woods’ world number one ranking.
By the end of the golf season, Woods had failed to win a tournament on either the US or European PGA Tours for the first time in his professional career.
His pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles remained stalled at 14, and he failed to qualify for the season-ending US Tour Championship for the first time.
There were intermittent signs that he was getting to grips with swing changes made under the guidance of new coach Sean Foley, and a morale-boosting selection to the US Ryder Cup team.
But on Nov 1, Woods’ 281-week reign atop the world rankings officially ended as England’s Lee Westwood secured the number one spot.
As the anniversary of the crash that started it all approached, Woods was at pains to reach out to fans – with a tentative Twitter foray as well as a first-person piece on the Newsweek website and a phone-in radio interview.
Critical reaction was tepid to Woods’ reflections on the tumultuous 12 months.
“I’ve come out the other side,” Woods said. — AFP