News & ToursMarch 25, 2011

With Tiger Woods, criticism comes with territory

One of the burdens of greatness is that it establishes a sometimes-unfair standard of expectation and attention. And those who openly pursue greatness contribute to the combustible nature of the situation. Which brings us to Tiger Woods.

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*Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

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That Woods is on the short list of greatest golfers ever, that he aspires so openly toward that goal, and that he has recently created obstacles to his performance (a self-imposed swing change and that other self-imposed distraction) makes him the tallest lightning rod in golf, if not in all of sports. No one creates as much buzz as Tiger.

Here is one measuring stick for his impact: There is no topic or individual I can write about, tweet about or talk about that elicits as much reaction as Woods. And while the reaction is from both sides -- Woods supporters and detractors -- the passion with which his fans react is, well, passionate. Merely reporting on his struggles is interpreted as an unfair attack on him as a person. This is a fascinating phenomenon.

               Recently, I tweeted:

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Almost immediately I got this Twitter response:

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Woods has shown flashes of his old self -- his 68 in Friday's second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill is an example -- but as yet has been unable to sustain that level of play for 72 holes. If there has been a lesson learned during Woods' struggles, it has been not to rush to the conclusion "He's Back!" too easily. And if there has been one lesson learned over his remarkable 15-year pro career, it is not to dismiss his ability to do the seemingly impossible too lightly. With Woods, as with any larger-than-life figure, it is easy to overreact.

Let's deconstruct what's going on here.

  1. Tiger was on his way to being regarded as the greatest golfer of all time, and there are some who already regard him as such.

  1. From that moment when a young Tiger first put the accomplishments of Jack Nicklaus up on his wall and would cross them off as he passed them, Woods has not been shy about his desire to be the best ever.

  1. Woods has not won a golf tournament since Nov. 15, 2009, a streak that will pass 500 days if he does not win the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill this weekend.

  1. Woods has decided for the fourth time in his professional career to change his golf swing.

  1. He is no longer 21 but rather a 35-year-old who has hit a lot of golf balls in his life, has had his left knee operated on four times, and in December, had a cortisone shot in his right Achilles, which he said he hurt during his rehab from his last knee surgery, in June 2008.

  1. His life has gone through painful, embarrassing and expensive changes since Nov. 27, 2009.

What does this all add up to? It means that what Tiger does is news. The story of whether or not Woods is once again the No. 1 player in the world; whether or not he gets the five wins he needs to break Nicklaus' record of 18 professional major championships; or even whether or not he wins again is one of the most compelling stories in sports.

To not be Tiger-centric as he works his way through this period of struggle would be to do a disservice to all who care about golf. And the fact that no one -- absolutely no one, including Woods -- knows how this story will end only enhances its urgency.  This is as if Kobe Bryant all of a sudden couldn't hit a jump shot or Albert Pujols batted .219 with 14 home runs this year. How can you not report that?

Let's not forget that when Woods at the height of the sport, no one sang his praises louder than the golf media, often to the annoyance of other players. And no one turned a blinder eye toward some of Woods' more troubling behavior -- on and off the golf course - than the golf media. In other words, Woods has received the benefit of the doubt more times than not.

Now, we are all just trying to figure out what is going on. When Woods wins again it will be a huge story, and we will write it. Well-deserved praise will be heaped on him for his skills, determination and perseverance. But neither Woods nor his fans can have it both ways. Our job is to report the news.

And the news right now is that the best player on the planet hasn't won a golf tournament in a very long time. When we point out that he is missing fairways or missing putts, it is merely an attempt to explain why he isn't winning. These are not attacks; they are statements of fact. We are merely trying to chronicle his struggles as aggressively and as accurately as we reported his successes. It seems only fair.

-- Ron Sirak

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