Eye Of The Storm

Continued (page 2 of 2)

To love what he sees in the mirror again, Woods has to understand that it was during those days that his current problems began to grow. Earl instilled in Tiger the belief that he was special and destined for greatness, embedding the message with sonorous sound bites like "Let the legend grow" and "It will unfold." It was all undoubtedly empowering, but enabling. Though Tiger was never comfortable being deified or portrayed as near-perfect, as his success in golf accelerated he became more hesitant to work on or even acknowledge personal flaws. It appeared that he came to see them as necessary to the psychological package that made him such a winner, and thus excusable. In that same 1999 interview, when asked which qualities he didn't like in himself, Woods paused before finally answering, "I don't know. I'm constantly evolving."

Tiger Woods

It was a recipe for entitlement. It's a condition the average person resents and rejects as an excuse for bad behavior. Many who live in the public eye have a more empathetic perspective and have been more willing to lend Woods support. "I'm a strong believer that anybody can look within themselves, find their flaws and fix them," President Obama said. Bill Clinton took a call from Woods on "something unrelated" and "wished him well," according to the former president's spokesman, Matt McKenna.

Most significantly, Woods has not lost the support of his intimates. Elin Woods spent several days in Mississippi to attend therapy sessions with her husband. Despite photos showing Elin without her wedding band and tabloid reports that she was preparing for divorce, she and the children -- 2-year-old Sam and Charlie, who turned 1 on Feb. 8 -- spent Christmas with Tiger at the family's Southern California home.

Tida woods is staunchly supportive of her son, as always. Just before his 34th birthday on Dec. 30, she accompanied Tiger on their annual visit with a Buddhist monk. Afterward, her son confided that he was struggling with all the upheaval. "I tell him, 'Tiger, right now you are in a dark hole, and I know it's hard, but you can do it,' " Tida says. " 'You know Mom is strong, and you have my blood. You are strong, too. You made a big mistake, but now you know the cost. So you are going to be much better and stronger, a good husband and a good father. Just go to work like you do.' "

It's precisely work that Woods is counting on to sustain him. As a golfer, he has described himself as an overachiever who rises to projects that challenge him to turn a weakness into a strength. Now his project, at last, is himself. But if Woods can turn his personal weakness into a strength, will a strength become a weakness? Is the selfishness in which his dysfunction was allowed to grow also vital to his ability to shut out the world and conquer opponents? Will becoming more balanced make winning golf tournaments less important? If so, winning five more professional major championships to pass Jack Nicklaus' record, only months ago considered inevitable, might become impossible.

I tell him, "Tiger, right now you are in a dark hole, and I know it's hard, but you can do it." -Tida Woods

On the other hand, the ordeal could have a liberating effect. The fact that he continued extremely reckless behavior in the face of such dire consequences strongly suggests that he was unconsciously seeking an escape from the most burdensome elements of his life, which included an image that he neither wanted nor could ever live up to, and a dread that no matter how great his accomplishments in golf, they would never be quite good enough for what he felt were a growing legion of critics. "He shattered that image," says Dr. Gio Valiante, a sport psychologist who has closely observed Woods over the years. "I'm certain that as bad as Tiger feels about what has happened, on some deep level, he is relieved." If so, it would not be unlike the experience of Alex Rodriguez, who after enduring the aftermath of confessing to steroid use, went on to have his best postseason ever for the Yankees.

Woods' mother, not surprisingly, expects the best for her son. "Since a little boy, Tiger always loved competition -- he born with that," she says. "So he will face himself, solve the problem, and when he comes back, he will still love to play and love to win. I think more than ever, because his closet will be cleaned out and his mind will be free. And I know he will break Jack's record."

Very likely, golf records are not the first thing on Woods' mind at the moment. More likely it's a determination to earn back a good and fulfilling life. What's fascinating is that despite all that has befallen him, it's still hard to envision failure. He is, after all, still Tiger Woods.

[Correction: An earlier version of this story posted online (and published in the April issue of Golf Digest) had two errors. We incorrectly reported that President Obama made a personal call to Tiger Woods to offer encouragement. Though the president commented publicly, that call never occurred. The story also stated that President Clinton called Woods to offer personal support. Upon further reporting, we found that Mr. Clinton had "wished him well" in a telephone conversation, but that it was Woods who had placed the call to Mr. Clinton on "something unrelated," according to the former president's spokesman, Matt McKenna. Our mistakes in both cases were due to a misunderstanding between the writer and a trusted source. We regret the errors.]

Dom Furore
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