- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 17, 2009

As sports go, it wasn’t close: Tiger Woods was famous for his golf long before he became infamous for his personal life.

For 10 incomparable years, no one ruled a sport like Woods. He won 64 tournaments, including 12 major championships. He hoisted a trophy on every continent where golf is played. And those 56 titles in one decade on the PGA Tour? Consider that only four of golf’s greatest players won more in their entire careers.

Even as a shocking sex scandal changed the way people look at Woods, the records he set could not be ignored.

Woods was selected Wednesday as the athlete of the decade by members of the AP in a vote that was more about his performance on the course than the self-described transgressions as a person.

“The only reason I wouldn’t vote for Tiger Woods is because of the events of the last three weeks,” said Mike Strain, sports editor of the Tulsa (Okla.) World. “And I didn’t think that was enough to change my vote. I thought he was a transcendent sports figure.”

He received 56 of the 142 votes cast since last month by editors at U.S. newspapers that are members of the AP. More than half the ballots were returned after the Nov. 27 car accident outside his Florida home that set off sensational tales of infidelity.

Lance Armstrong, a cancer survivor who won the Tour de France six times this decade, finished second with 33 votes. He was followed by Roger Federer, who has won more Grand Slam singles titles than any other man, with 25 votes.

Record-setting Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps came in fourth with 13 votes, followed by New England quarterback Tom Brady (six) and world-record sprinter Usain Bolt (four). Five other athletes received one vote apiece.

Woods, who has not been seen since the accident and has issued only statements on his Web site, was not made available to comment about the award.

Seattle Times sports editor Don Shelton discussed the vote with his staff, which he said was torn among Woods, Armstrong and Federer. He voted for Woods in the early stages of the scandal.

“I’m not sure I would change my vote,” Shelton said. “I looked at him as an athlete, I really did. I separated him a little bit. If this had happened three years ago and his performance had dropped off, that’s a different factor.”

Allegations of rampant affairs starting come out just 10 days after Woods won the Australian Masters before record crowds for the 82nd worldwide victory of his career. He received a $3 million appearance fee in Australia, and the government estimated a return of $20 million from the number of fans Woods attracted.

Few other athletes changed their sport — from TV ratings to galleries to prize money.

A new image emerged quickly in the days following his middle-of-the-night accident, when he ran his SUV over a fire hydrant and into a tree. He became the butt of late-night TV jokes, eventually confessed to infidelity and lost a major sponsorship from Accenture.

“Seems an unlikely time to vote for him, but he had more influence and impact on the complete decade, 2000 to 2009, than any of the other athletes,” said Paul Vigna, sports editor of the (Harrisburg, Pa.) Patriot-News.

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