April. Masters time again. Tiger Woods time again. Mr. Eldrick Woods has been around for a while -- turned pro in 1996 and won his first Masters in '97 -- so we can call him a regular. It's no stretch to say he's the best golfer born of woman, and barring bad luck, he'll own the major golf records in due time. He owns quite a few already.
You don't have the time to read all his awards, so the following will give you an idea of their depth because each award listed represents a year's worth of being best in that category.
Woods has been on the PGA Tour for ten years and is eight-time PGA Tour Player of the Year, seven-time PGA Tour money winner, seven-time Byron Nelson Award winner (lowest adjusted scoring average for the year), nine-time Mark H. McCormack Award winner (world golf rankings), and four-time Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year. His amateur stats are just as impressive.
I've watched him play for years, still amazed at the shots he routinely makes and how mercilessly, sadistically he crushes opponents, particularly during the last round. He is the greatest frontrunner in sports. Along the way, I have come to understand that Tiger plays another game and he's as good at it as he is at golf.
I'm referring to the media game. Woods is Best of Breed. Michael Jordan was a pro media handler, but you could see his edges once in awhile: the gambling, the ego, the inhuman competitiveness. Lance Armstrong was a pro media handler (controlled his message, never created a controversy about himself) but you could see his hardness, his self-centeredness.
Handling the media is tough to do if you're well known; harder if you're a star, supremely difficult if you're a world celebrity. On that level you become prey. Every day, somebody from the tabloids or New York Times or Entertainment Tonight wants to interview you. Every moment in public is a moment someone wants something from you: an autograph, a photograph, money, business partnership, friendship, endorsement, charity appearance, sex, conversation...you name it. You get up, get ready, walk into the world and are greeted by a tsunami of other people's greed. Shysters, swindlers, hustlers, crazies are coming at you. It's ceaseless; they never seem to tire. How long would you last until you said something stupid?
Have you noticed that everything you've read about Tiger Woods -- every interview you've heard or seen -- sounds as if his dialogue was written by an advertising agency? There's no meat on the bones of his words; everything has been combed and brushed so it won't offend any consumer. Follows are some representative Tiger quotes: "Amazing thing is, I love golf more than ever." "I mean, as an athlete, as a competitor, you have to have that belief in yourself." "I'm trying as hard as I can, and sometimes things don't go your way, and that's the way things go."
Don't get me wrong. I admire Woods' media skills. He's the one on the high wire. One slip, one stupid comment, and his words will be sent around the world and then trotted out from time to time for the rest of his life.
The thing is, we don't know much about him. Don't know his fault lines or the places where he's funny.
There is something weird about Tiger. He's way too wholesome. Normally, you'd expect a kid who had a crazy father (or, to put this in a kinder way, a kid whose father had him playing competitive golf at the age of two) to wind up hating dear old dad. If not that, at least the kid would rebel against the bastard and come back to him when he's 30. Tiger didn't; he loved his dad all the way through, and that's not normal.
Also, he has a beautiful wife. She's a blonde and a foreigner. She comes from the foreign country of Sweden. That should be an opening for the press. But, no, he has managed to keep his private life private. Tiger married in 2004 at the age of 28. One would expect that he did not enter into marriage as a virgin. But, no ex-girlfriend has tried her hand at the tabloid, talk TV, ghostwritten book freak show. Or boyhood chum. Or college roommate.
No mistakes. He doesn't make mistakes in a news conference or interviews. No mistakes, no controversy, no ruffled feathers. Can any other athlete say that?
According to Forbes Magazine, Woods made $87 million last year. I don't think he's being overpaid. Golf Digest says Woods will become a billionaire sometime in 2010. Fine with me, although I wouldn't mind knowing something about who he is.
Maybe there is one clue. I'd guess that a guy who names his 155-foot, three-story, $22-million-dollar yacht Privacy is trying to tell us something.