From an outside perspective, this looks a lonely, sad time for Tiger Woods. He’s no longer a real life flesh-and-blood golfer. He’s a walking, grainy image of his former self, the dominating, cutthroat machine that gobbled up majors and was an immortal by his mid-twenties.
Yes, Tiger still “competes” at the sport. He lines up and hits tee shots at tournaments and appears on scoring scrolls at the bottom of your screen. He has not retired. He has not moved on. But it’s like seeing the principal of your old high school after the 20th reunion. You recognize the person, but the context and significance are completely altered.
Tiger doesn’t compete as he used to. He doesn’t have any chance to win majors, no chance at taking down Rory and Jordan and the real players on tour. He barely has a chance at making the cut. Most tournaments, he’s gone after Friday because the golf gods are not doing him any favors, and his ravaged body is shot. He can no longer hold up to even the most basic of exercises and preparation.
It was either the unnecessary pounding of his military exercises, or too much weight gain and torque put on his slender frame, or something more nefarious like PEDs. Just look back on his 14 visits from HGH doctor (and A-Rod favorite) Anthony Galea in ’09. But his body is one of a man 20 or 30 years older. He will never be fully healthy enough to play high-level golf.
No matter how or why we got here, Tiger’s sad DUI photograph showed a man whose light has dimmed and is nearly burned out. It’s been almost a decade since he’s won a major. He’s only 41 years old, yet his body has given out like a car climbing a hill on an empty gas tank. His family life was ripped apart, splayed out publicly for the world to gawk at. His parade of trashy, porn-star and tabloid vixen mistresses was a humiliation unlike any other one of our immortals had endured. And since, his life has looked hopeless.
Tiger is not driven the same way he once was, seeking the next challenge to prove his excellence. He no longer stalks his prey on the Sundays of a major. There is no burning will within. There is a broken man, both physically and emotionally, who plugs away, says the right things, but is forever swimming sideways.
How could a person who was known for his maniacal meticulousness become so sloppy, so lazy, in his personal life? Tiger knew every angle, studied every hole, found every secret to beat his foes. He was tracking trajectories of shots in elementary school, soaking up all the clues he could, driving himself to beat the game that beats us all. Yet, when it has come to his dalliances and affairs, his pain medication and family life, he ignored all of those tendencies.
It doesn’t make much sense that a guy so consumed with the small stuff, who could recite to the most minute detail every hole of every course he played, could miss all that small stuff elsewhere. With a humiliating background of sordid scandal, Tiger would be willing to mix pain medication and get behind the wheel of a car? A man who woozily slammed into a fire hydrant as part of the most humiliating episode of his life, found snoring from sleeping meds, would do it again? A man worth hundreds of millions would ignore an Uber, taxi, car service or a ride from a friend? He would instead risk more embarrassment? Or worse, risk hurting himself and others?
Being found sleeping at the wheel of a running car at 3 a.m. by the cops doesn’t make much sense until you realize there isn’t much for Tiger right now. He is no longer chasing golf dominance. He no longer has his father, who he idolized. He no longer has his harem of women to juggle. He no longer has a wife. He is only relevant right now because the older generation still waits breathlessly on every “comeback,” while the Millennials snicker and make memes at his expense.
What is left for Tiger in this space? Nothing. His happiness may return when he finally moves on and finds a new purpose doing something in his post-playing career. A new wife, or a total focus on his children may do it. Maybe there’s business or philanthropy or social causes that will revive him. But right now he’s a battery with no juice. The pilot light is out. An old hero lost at sea.