Tiger doesn't see his life as we on the outside do, that his Act I is over and now he's in the early scenes of Act II, in which the protagonist has so much more texture. His agent, Mark Steinberg, formerly of IMG and now of Excel Sports Management, says the "new Tiger" is going to look a lot like the "old Tiger." Tiger himself, talking recently to a friend about real-life makeovers, said, "I've been an a------ for 35 years. I don't know if I'll ever be able to change." It was meant as a joke. But somewhere in there was the hint of truth.
When he won four straight majors 12 years ago, Woods was one of the most compelling athletes in the world. Now he's one of the most compelling people. He slid down the face of the mountain from its highest peak with the whole world watching, and now he's looking for a new path up. There's a role model out there for him, a man who did something similar: Bill Clinton.
It's a hard way to live, to have your every move scrutinized, but that's modern celebrity life. (People today seem to think that because we pay you, we own you.) In January, many questioned the wisdom of Woods's going to Abu Dhabi, a tournament that conflicted with the PGA Tour stop at Torrey Pines, where he has won seven times as a pro. If winning begets winning, why not stay home? A fair question.
And one, actually, with a simple answer. Like Deep Throat said, Follow the money. The winner in San Diego earned $1 million. The winner in Abu Dhabi earned less than half that. But Tiger received somewhere around $2 million just for showing up in Abu Dhabi. (The PGA Tour doesn't allow appearance fees.) Does Tiger need the money? Hard to imagine that he does. Does he think he needs the money? That's a different question. Would Earl Woods, who died in 2006, have stamped Tiger's passport? Discuss among yourselves.
Six years later the legend of Earl lives on, still rattling the change in his pocket while his boy stands over must-make short ones, preparing him for the day. A prodigy fell into Earl's lap, and he left no stone unturned to help Tiger in his pursuit of Jack. It was Earl who brought Tiger, at age two, to the Mike Douglas Show. That's when the odometer started turning. That's why Tiger is an old 36. At 36, Elizabeth Taylor, also a child star, was pretty much done with acting. She moved on to other things.
When you're a legend in your own time, and Tiger is, normal life is abnormal. If Ernie Els pops into the Palm Beach Gardens Mall with his kids, nobody particularly cares. In part, it's because of how Ernie, a Hall of Famer, carries himself. He shares. Tiger really doesn't.
At an event in March 2007, Tiger was paired with Henrik Stenson, the Swedish golfer. They're the same age. They've been on opposing Ryder Cup teams. Like Tiger once was, Stenson is married to a Swede. They know each other.
"How's Emma?" Woods asked. You'd be surprised how often Woods will ask genial questions like that.
"Great," Stenson said. "We're expecting."
Emma and Henrik's first child was born on July 2, 2007. Tiger and Elin's first child was born two weeks earlier. But on that March day Woods never mentioned a thing about Elin's pregnancy. That, of course, is his prerogative. Still, Stenson found it odd. Odd and cold. There's a wall around Tiger, mostly of his own making. The wall is part of who he is. You can be frustrated by it or you can accept it. Either way, it doesn't change his golf.