- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2012


If TV ratings, Internet articles and column inches in print media are any indication, “The Big Miss” should be a huge hit when it goes on sale March 27, a week before the subject shoots for his fifth green jacket at Augusta National.

Tiger Woods hasn’t won the Masters since 2005, a major championship since 2008 or an official PGA tournament of any kind since 2009. In his last five PGA Tour events, he has tied for 17th, tied for 15th, tied for 30th, missed the cut (at the PGA Championship) and tied for 37th. He’s at the Honda Classic this week, a tournament he hadn’t deigned to play since 1993, three years before he turned pro.

But we not only remain fascinated by Woods, we’re arguably captivated like never before.

The upcoming book by his former swing coach will only increase the magnification on Woods since that fateful Thanksgiving night in 2009, back when we couldn’t imagine him as a more compelling figure. Yet, stuck on 14 majors with Jack Nicklaus‘ record 18 looking safe once again, Woods is even more intriguing, thanks to the turmoil in his personal life and his struggles on the golf course.

Whether it’s his swing, his putter or Hank Haney’s take on those subjects and more, the scrutiny grows while the wins stagnate.

“It’s part of who I am and what I’ve accomplished,” Woods said during Wednesday’s press conference at the Honda Classic a day before he shot 1-over-par in the first round. “I think it would have been probably similar if Jack was probably in my generation. Didn’t quite have the media scrutiny that they do now. And it’s just a different deal, and I know that a lot of players don’t get the same analysis with their games that I do. But it’s been like that since I turned pro.”

Nothing has been the same since he turned pro and created legions of casual fans who tune in when he plays and tune out when he passes. Paired with Phil Mickelson in the second-to-last group in the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National on Feb. 12, Woods helped the tournament achieve a 96 percent increase in its TV rating compared to last year.

Woods wouldn’t be a bigger draw if he finally won again. But the fact that he collapsed and shot a 75 could bring more viewers to the screen this week, hoping he recovers his winning ways or rooting like crazy for his losing streak to continue.

Folks from both camps could be drawn to Haney’s book. He had an inside view as Woods won six majors and rewrote golf history from March 2004 through the 2010 Masters, which marked Woods‘ return after an early-morning accident and revelations of adultery blew up his marriage and life as he knew it.

Woods‘ reaction to the book only spurs interest. He called it “unprofessional” and “very disappointing” in January, which Haney said was odd because the golfer hasn’t read it. When Golf Digest published excerpts this week about Woods‘ self-imposed pressure to catch Nicklaus and serious contemplation of becoming a Navy SEAL, agent Mark Steinberg lashed out.

“His armchair psychology about Tiger, on matters he admits they didn’t even discuss, is ridiculous,” Steinberg said in a statement. “The disruptive timing of this book shows that Haney’s self-promotion is more important to him than any other person or tournament. What’s been written violates the trust between a coach and player and someone also once considered a friend.”

I can’t blame Haney for writing the book or having it released right before the Masters. It won’t hurt golf overall or the Masters in particular. Considering how many fans have insatiable appetites for all things Woods, Haney is providing a public service for the golf world.

Steinberg criticizes the “armchair psychology,” but that activity is among our favorite pastimes, especially when it’s applied to celebrities as reserved as Woods. When stars share so little of themselves, rarely giving us a glimpse of their innermost thoughts and feelings, we use our own imaginations to fill in the blanks.

Woods was blanker than most before the Escalade, voicemail and mistresses came to define him as much as the 71 career victories and nearly $93 million in PGA earnings beforehand. His story, already unfathomable, has grown exponentially ever since. The end could include more majors or no more victories, period.

The scope of those extremes, plus the ground covered in reaching this juncture, make Woods 2.0 even more alluring than the original.

We never would’ve believed that was possible. But it’s playing out before our eyes, which remain locked on the Tiger.

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