Can a Tiger change its stripes?

CHIBA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 27: Tiger Woods swings on the ninth tee during the final round of The ZOZO Championship at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club on October 26, 2019 in Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

Say what you want about Tiger Woods. That’s it. That’s the sentence. No matter how large the scandal, how high the obstacle or how scathing the scrutiny, the most fascinating man in sports entertainment continues to roll with the punches and move the needle like no other. It’s nothing short of a miracle. 

It wasn’t that long ago when The Golf Channel in June of 2017 shamefully posted a video of an unrecognisable Woods struggling to recite the alphabet having been pulled over by police when driving under the influence. At that point, content supervisors at the station had clearly written off Tiger’s hopes of a 15th Major title and an 82nd PGA Tour win. They took a swing at Woods’ fading reputation rather than supporting the sport’s biggest asset. On Monday, they were amongst the masses waxing lyrical about the G.O.A.T’s latest remarkable achievement. “Fans” can be so fickle. 

The Renaissance of Woods has been a fascinating one. From Tour loner and disgraced serial adulterer whose crocked spine had cut short the greatest career the game had seen, to Tiger 2.0; fused back together and with a personality transplant to boot. Now a Presidents Cup Captain, Tiger’s taken on the role of Tour Uncle, seemingly willing to share nuggets of wisdom to those who took to the fairways inspired by his name.  

Do I buy the new holier than thou, Tiger Woods act?  

Of course not! Like a middle-aged entertainer dressed as Barney the Dinosaur at a child’s 5th birthday party, I picture an exhausted Woods hiding behind the garden shed at the interval, pulling on a cigarette and whispering profanities upon exhaling only to ramp up the Colgate smiles for act two. 

Call me cynical, but unless personality transplants really are a thing, I put Woods’ new outgoing exterior down to a team of people put on earth to profit from Tiger’s play. Where sponsors abandoned him after human chinks were revealed amid his carefully contrived coat of armour, corporates are once again queuing up for a suckle at the teat of the game’s great cash cow. Sure, Tiger’s perspective may have improved thanks to debilitating injuries that threatened his quality of life, but I’m unconvinced he’s learned humility overnight having read about his upbringing. 

Described by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian in their book ‘Tiger Woods’: “Tiger’s inability to show gratitude, apologize, or express appreciation was rooted in his warped upbringingHis mother pampered him like a prince, and his father rarely uttered the words thank you or I’m sorry. Tiger learned early and often that his needs were all that mattered. His unapologetically self-centered attitude was critical to his success in golf, but it had an utterly devastating impact on the way people perceived him.” 

Never was that more evident than in another alarming anecdote highlighted in that biography where Woods allegedly met Peggy Lewis, a woman whose house Woods had been renting during the 1998 Masters. Champion that year, Mark O’Meara had sent Tiger next door to where O’Meara’s wife, Alicia was sipping celebratory champagne with none other than, and unbeknownst to Tiger, Peggy Lewis herself. 

Tiger’s task? Ask Alicia O’Meara what time they’d be leaving.  

The collection of cheerful ladies were stunned when Woods showed up to the doorand one opportunist sipping bubbles used the chance encounter to introduce Peggy to the young Champion who’d be dwelling in her abode. Naturally, Tiger’s landlord was ecstatic and proud to meet the prodigy her home had hosted for the past two Masters tournaments, and so she extended her hand to embrace the 1997 Green Jacket winner. 

According to the book, Woods, unmoved, ignored her advances and instead turned to O’Meara’s wife Alicia, telling her that Mark wants to know what time they’d be leaving. He got his answer, turned his back and left poor Peggy feeling humiliated. Admittedly this was 20 years ago but it’s a theme that ran through Tiger’s career until suddenly he was vulnerable and ‘Brand Woods required a facelift. 

Can Tiger change his stripes? Not for me, not this fast at least, but does that make me appreciate the greatest golfer in my lifetime and perhaps the best that’s ever lived any less? Not in the slightest.  

Growing up, I wanted to be Tiger Woods. I twirled the club regardless of contact and chased my ball into the hole with a Tiger stride just to be more like him. As an adult, I’m loving every minute of his second coming on the fairways. Off it, he remains a hero I’d happily never meet. 



Get all the latest golf news and free digital editions of Irish Golfer delivered straight to your inbox!