Powell: Tiger is Trapped by the Kingdom he Created

Image of a do-no-wrong athlete dissolves

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There’s something profoundly fitting about Tiger Woods currently being trapped inside his gated Florida mansion and, by extension, the pristine and perfect world he built.

The same face that was once smooth enough to putt on, the face that sold plenty of sports drinks, Swiss watches and swooshes, now sports a divot or two and is in hiding, too ashamed to be photographed in public. The most vicious cut-throat winner on earth is no doubt shivering and vulnerable, which usually is the condition of the foolish golfer who dares to challenge Tiger on Sunday afternoons on the course.

As the gold-plated bricks of that foundation finally shows sign of cracking, Tiger is being swallowed up by a creation he and society made for him: the image of a do-no-wrong athlete who lives in a galaxy far apart from those of us outside the ropes.

This is a nightmare for Tiger on two fronts: First, and most obvious, the “personal failings” that probably cost his angry wife a well-manicured fingernail in the wee hours after Thanksgiving. Second: The relentless and round-the-clock coverage that tarnishes (humanizes?) a man who’d rather have folks concentrate on what he’s selling and how often he’s winning, you know, like before.

The embarrassing coverage in particular is what’s really causing pain to someone who owns yacht called “Privacy.” You see, when you’ve built an empire as big as Tiger’s, you take particular satisfaction in controlling everything about it. Tiger can tell the PGA Tour what to do, can dictate terms of his contract with his many sponsors, and can rule the sports media with an iron glove. But he can’t stop a cocktail waitress from running to the tabloids with sex, lies and audiotape, or prevent the storm of stories from multiplying faster than his rate of winning majors.

In a warped way, Tiger’s confession to his “transgressions” actually make him appear normal and flawed, two traits the fawning and awestruck public normally don’t associate with him. To them, Tiger is a winning machine, pre-programmed since appearing on “Mike Douglas” at the age of three, who’s worth close to a billion dollars and married to a woman hot enough to cause global warming. Such is the way we’re conditioned to think when it comes to special celebrities, especially those who’ve never had a whiff of scandal.

And yet, once you peel away the Nike hat, he’s just like any other male athlete with options. If he’s apologizing for what we think he’s apologizing for, then he couldn’t turn down an opportunity (wink-wink), either. Kobe Bryant, John Daly, Michael Jordan, Michael Irvin and countless others can tell you just how irresistible temptation can be for an athlete with power and money. Evidently, Tiger was chasing something other than Jack Nicklaus’ record, and probably doing it while wearing red. And this is only “news” because it involves Tiger and His Perfect World, which come to find out, has a lot more in common with Our Screwed Up World than we previously thought.

Tiger is certainly right to wonder about a “human measure of privacy” because whatever happened is really between him and his wife. He hasn’t “let down” anyone except her and his family. He shouldn’t be forced into any grand public confession, done purely for show, because the public isn’t involved. But that 800-pound genie won’t be squeezed back into the bottle again, not in the age of TMZ and the internet, and besides, when you willingly agree to rake in millions through advertising all geared around your likeable character, such is the deal with the devil you make.

So what happens from here? Well, as I once thought years ago, while he was inhaling majors, nothing can stop Tiger except a bad marriage. Fred Couples will co-sign on that. Even Earl Woods said as much. Any woman Tiger married would be instantly empowered and yield massive control over his life. Nobody knows what direction husband and wife are headed, but if it goes sour, then Elin might turn into Y.E. Yang. Times two.

Given how Tiger is so sensitive about his public persona, a divorce would cause him more mental anguish than Mickelson on top of his game. The aura of perfection would be smashed (if it isn’t already) and Tiger would be forced to go through life like any schmoe paying child support. Come to think of it, the one record Nicklaus cherishes, and the one Tiger may or may not get, is the number of years happily married to the same woman. Jack always said Barbara helped him win more tournaments than any golf club could.

In addition to his endorsements and tournament victories, Tiger cares most about his place in history. That’s what motivates him. That’s why he’s sensitive about the last few weeks and getting caught and his “personal sins.” He knows history will not only reflect his longest drives, but also make particular note of the shortest one he ever took, just beyond his driveway.

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