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I Want To Play Golf With Tiger Woods

Weekly 18: A big win for Jason Day, and Tiger Woods, at last, can play

USGA, R&A clarify new caddie-alignment rule

PGA Tour reverses McCarthy’s penalty at Phoenix

Johnson stays cool, wins Saudi International

Fowler wins Phoenix Open despite triple-bogey

Long downs Mickelson, Hadwin with birdie on 18

LaCava wouldn’t take other jobs with Tiger out

PGA Tour’s first event of 2019 might make sense for Tiger

Norman duel, rare loss still fresh in Tiger’s mind

Tiger didn’t know he hit ball twice, avoids penalty

How Tiger and Phil missed the mark — over and over

Sorry, Tiger and Phil, these are the matches we’d rather see

‘Team player’ Miller to retire as NBC analyst

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Jason Day needed an extra day to finally win again; Rory McIlroy could have used a few more holes; and the slow play issue reared its ugly head during a major moment.

I’ll get to all of that in this edition of the Weekly 18, but Tigermania is running wild once again, as Tiger Woods did just enough to keep us intrigued and excited about what the future holds.

The W18 begins with what we learned about Tiger, what we didn’t learn and what we still don’t know.

Tiger Woods grabbed headlines at Torrey Pines, but Jason Day was left holding the trophy Monday. Donald Miralle/Getty Images

1. First things first: It doesn’t take an expert to understand that the most important part about Woods’ successful return to a full-field event is what it portends for the future. His performance at Torrey Pines wasn’t about this week itself. It’s like golf is planning a party and just set the date and sent out the invitations. There will be plenty of hot takes in the wake of his first full-field tournament in a year, but it’s impossible to argue that a healthy, motivated Tiger isn’t good for the game. I’ve been crowing about this for a while now: If he’s capable of contending for tournaments again (and upon first glimpse, that answer is fairly obvious) and so many of the game’s terrific young players continue playing the way they have, golf could be hurtling toward a cross-generational golden age. I’m sure contrarians can find a problem with this, but it seems like the best of both worlds.

2. Here’s another one that’s tough to argue against: With his T-23 result, Woods defied expectations this week. I predicted in last week’s W18 that he’d finish T-14, but that hardly means I “expected” it. Even the most rabid Tiger fans should understand this was an unmitigated victory for a player who hadn’t made a cut in 888 days and has only one other tourney with four rounds of par-or-better in the past five years. This should be classified as somewhere between one giant leap and baby steps, but it certainly puts him on the right path for a long journey.

3. Now we can get to the debate — or at least one of ’em. Whenever there’s discourse as to whether Woods is “back,” I remember asking him what he considered “back” during one of his previous comebacks a few years ago. Tiger just sort of smiled and shrugged, as if to say he’d rather just play and let everyone else argue about it. The truth is, there’s no correct answer because it’s all in the interpretation. I certainly don’t have an answer, either, but I do think he dropped a clue this week toward moving in that direction. Before the opening round, Tiger stopped short of his usual pre-tournament statement: “I’m here to win.” Which was perfectly sensible, considering his layoff. By Sunday afternoon, when interviewed on the broadcast, he was already in old Tiger mode: “I really wanted to shoot something around 65. I thought that might be a playoff number.” I’m not saying that means he’s “back.” Just that his comments from Wednesday to Sunday suggest a change in mindset.

4. Oh, and that quote? Tiger said it nearly three hours before the final group finished. As it turns out, 65 would have gotten him into the playoff. His prediction game is in midseason form.

5. The biggest question with Woods’ game moving forward is, without a doubt, the driver. He found just 17 fairways this week — three fewer than he’d hit during any other 72-hole PGA Tour event in his career. On a 1-10 scale of worry, though, I’d rate this about a 3.2. It would be a lot more troubling if he couldn’t dial in his distance control (which was decent but not great) or started yipping chips again (which he didn’t). Here’s assuming that over the next few weeks, Woods will tinker with both his swing off the tee and the driver itself, finding a more comfortable combination that limits those errors.

6. We learned plenty about Tiger this week. Here’s what we didn’t learn: We don’t know whether he’s “ready” to win again; we have no idea if he’ll bring his A-game to the majors; we have only vague clues about his impending schedule; and we’re not even sure if his surgically repaired back can withstand an entire season of practicing and playing. All of those will be answered in due time. Point is, anyone ready to make huge proclamations about his impending results is just guessing.

7. Here’s something we did learn: Despite having no wins in five years and no majors in a decade, Woods is still golf’s greatest needle-mover and its most relevant asset. Love him or love to hate him, fans flock to the gallery ropes and TV screens when he’s in competition. They used to do that to see the game’s most dominant force in his prime. Now they do it because he’s the great unknown — and we’ll never know when or if he’s ready to again unlock some of that magic.

8. Woods was standing over a 9-foot birdie putt on the 13th hole Sunday, when just as he began his putting stroke, a fan yelled, “Get in the hole!” Why? Well, for the same reason anyone ever yells anything — to be heard. I did a deep dive into the psyches of these “fans” a few years ago, interviewing nearly two dozen people who had screamed inane things at professional golfers during tournaments. I found out a few things, none of which should come as a surprise. First, they’re almost exclusively men ages 18 to 30. Second, they were nearly unanimous in having a little liquid courage. Third, they yelled after texting friends watching on TV at home to listen for their voice. You probably could have guessed all of that. What you might not realize — and what the guy who screamed at Tiger is only starting to grasp — is that most of them regretted causing a scene and said they wouldn’t do it again.

9. Last thing on Tiger: I absolutely loved this quote from him after a third-round 70 during which he hit the ball all over the place and saved himself with a brilliant short-game performance. “The only thing I had was my short game and my heart,” he said afterward, “and that got me through it today.”

Tiger Woods put himself in some tough spots but recovered well at the Farmers Insurance Open. AP Photo/Gregory Bull

10. Three years ago, Day opened with a disappointing 1-over 73 at Torrey, then went on to win the golf tournament. Must be a smart strategy. This week, he again opened with a 73 and again won in a playoff. It’s the first victory for Day in 20 months, as he’s dealt with some personal situations that presumably affected his on-course performance. He should be commended for hanging in during an extra long Sunday afternoon, then bouncing back Monday morning in the continuation of a playoff with Alex Noren, stiffing a third-shot wedge on the sixth hole to all but clinch the title.

11. Feel-good story of the week (non-Tiger division) goes to Ryan Palmer. Three years ago, I sat with him days after his father had died in a car accident, and he explained why he needed to keep playing for has dad. Last year, his wife, Jennifer, underwent treatment for stage 2 breast cancer. As a result, he made only 20 starts and entered this season needing to keep his PGA Tour playing privileges in his first six events. Things are looking up. Jennifer is healthy, and he needed only two of those six starts to keep his card. Palmer was eliminated on the first playoff hole Sunday, but the smile on his face afterward told the story of a guy who can still be happy without getting the win.

12. I get it. The tournament was on the line for J.B. Holmes as he stood over his second shot on the final hole, and the wind was gusting, and he was trying to make a decision. Quite simply, though, the decision took way too long. It took Holmes more than four minutes to hit his layup, which is egregious on a Thursday morning but downright detrimental to the game on a Sunday afternoon in the final group, when it shines a spotlight on just how plodding professional golf can be in its biggest moments.

13. The worst part? Holmes essentially iced one of his playing partners. After waiting and watching, Noren finally stood over his ball, swung and flew the green. That’s not fair.

14. All of that said, I’m not an advocate of shot clocks or more fervently enforced slow-play penalties, especially during the final holes of a tournament. For a game infused with purity, it just feels too artificial. Think about it: Your favorite player is tied for the lead on the final hole. He stands over his ball. A big wind gust comes through. He steps away. Then, suddenly, a horn sounds, noting that he took too long, will be penalized and has lost the tournament. Sounds brutal, right? Besides, if you’re going to police the last few groups on Sunday, you’ve got to police all of them for all four rounds. There needs to be a more organic cure for slow play than some of the ideas that are out there.

15. Haotong Li is a stud. The 22-year-old didn’t just stiff-arm McIlroy down the stretch on Sunday in Dubai, but he also moved into the world’s top 50 and earned his second European Tour title. He’s also really fun to watch. Li plays with some fire and passion, which could translate into his becoming a global star once his game reaches full potential. If this week was any indication, he might not be too far off.

16. Of course, McIlroy owns more than a few stud qualities himself. For those scoring at home, he’s now returned from that 3½-month layoff to finish third and second in his first two starts. You can almost see him building more confidence each round. If he continues at this pace, those thirds and seconds soon will translate into wins.

17. Imagine this: You’re a young person, tops in the world in your field and ready to start a job that could soon prove to be extremely lucrative — except then you’re offered an amazing-yet-unpaid opportunity that’s too good to turn down. OK, so maybe it’s not a perfect analogy to other situations, but this was the one facing Joaquin Niemann before he won this week’s Latin America Amateur Championship. With it, of course, comes an exemption into this year’s Masters, and so the 19-year-old No. 1-ranked amateur from Chile will delay turning pro for three more months, until he gains that invaluable experience at the year’s first major.

18. Nothing against Phoenix, nothing against Pebble — two really fun weeks coming up on the PGA Tour. But it’s going to be lit, as the kids say, at Riviera in a few weeks. Defending champion Dustin Johnson is in the field, as are McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Oh, and that other guy. The tournament host. Some dude named Tiger.

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An extra day proved valuable for Day at Torrey Pines, where we also learned a few things about the power of Tiger in his return to golf.

Tiger Woods vs Phil Mickelson Match-play Would be Wonderful for Golf Fans

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Tiger Woods vs Phil Mickelson Match-play Would be Wonderful for Golf Fans

Tiger Woods vs Phil Mickelson Match-play Would be Wonderful for Golf Fans

There few golfers who move the needle like Tiger Woods. You could throw Phil Mickelson into that discussion to an extent if he is in the hunt on a Sunday because he is a fan favorite, or if he decides to break the rules by deflecting a ball in a fit of rage during the U.S. Open, but still, he is no Tiger in terms of viewership.

Tiger has transcended the sport and brought in viewers that are not only casual golfers, but also those who just want to watch one of the best to ever play the game. People will complain about the coverage Woods is getting now that he’s returned to the PGA Tour because he hasn’t won in a decade, but he’s actually been competitive this season and that’s been great for the sport.

And now, NOW we get to the fun stuff that was once mentioned as a possibility, a high-stakes game between the two legends.

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At the Players Championship, Phil had this to say about the possibility of a duel between the two:

“The excitement that’s been going on around here, it gets me thinking: Why don’t we just bypass all the ancillary stuff of a tournament and just go head-to-head and just have kind of a high-stakes, winner-take-all match. Now, I don’t know if he wants a piece of me, but I just think it would be something that would be really fun for us to do, and I think there would be a lot of interest in it if we just went straight to the final round.”

Woods was more than willing to play along:

“I’m definitely not against that. We’ll play for whatever makes him uncomfortable.”

Those bragging rights would go a long way for Phil, should he win because it’s hard to imagine him not mentioning it to some extent in press conferences for the rest of his career.

Phil, “Remember that time I beat Tiger in a high-stakes match-play game?”

Of course, we would.

Why? Well, Phil said it best:

“The tough thing is that he has the trump card: his career record. OK?” Mickelson says. “Whether it’s 14 majors, 79 wins, however many players of the year awards, FedEx Cups, the whole deal. He owns all the trump cards. So I have to be very careful and strategic in my smack talk, because if I lay something down, in comes a trump card, you know, and then shuts me right up.”

The bigger question is where would this event be hosted?

For now, the initial talks suggest the event will be held at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, but there are plenty of courses that aren’t on the regular PGA Tour rotation that could play host. Bandon Dunes, Streamsong, Seminole Golf Club, National Golf Links, Pine Valley Golf Club, Chicago Golf Club, or literally any other course as the possibilities for something like this are endless.

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Image via Shadow Creek Golf Course in Las Vegas. Built by Tom Fazio, with Steve Wynn.

This is still just a very vision the two share, but Mickelson says that he and Woods hope to play a couple of exhibitions around the world every year. As Alan Shipnuck, who first reported the talks suggests, the two could even pair up against a few other guys like Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed or Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter.

So, whether you hate Tiger or hate Phil, frankly, I fail to see how any of this would be bad for golf and personally, I would enjoy watching every one of these, so bring it on!

Lets do this!

Tiger vs. Phil is the heavyweight fight we all want to see

USGA, R&A clarify new caddie-alignment rule

PGA Tour reverses McCarthy’s penalty at Phoenix

Johnson stays cool, wins Saudi International

Fowler wins Phoenix Open despite triple-bogey

Long downs Mickelson, Hadwin with birdie on 18

LaCava wouldn’t take other jobs with Tiger out

PGA Tour’s first event of 2019 might make sense for Tiger

Norman duel, rare loss still fresh in Tiger’s mind

Tiger didn’t know he hit ball twice, avoids penalty

How Tiger and Phil missed the mark — over and over

Sorry, Tiger and Phil, these are the matches we’d rather see

‘Team player’ Miller to retire as NBC analyst

Phil Mickelson tells Michael Collins that he’s looking forward to talking smack with Tiger Woods about their match-play showdown in November. (0:49)

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published July 6, 2018.

As an escape artist, Phil Mickelson makes everyone from Harry Houdini to David Blaine appear slow and lacking in imagination. Whether it is a shot from behind an Augusta National tree or an unruly lie in an insider-trading case involving a high-stakes gambling partner, Mickelson always pulls something out of his bag to get home safely.

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Tiger-Phil $9M match to air on PPV on Nov. 23

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will meet in a winner-take-all $9 million match-play event on Nov. 23 at Shadow Creek Golf Course in Las Vegas.

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Tiger thought he ‘was done’ at 2017 Masters

Tiger Woods thought he “was done” with golf at the 2017 Masters champions dinner — prior to spinal fusion surgery. Said Woods: “I had no golf in my future at that time.”

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Tale of the tape: Tiger vs. Phil

A head-to-head showdown between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson for $9 million? Yes, please . especially when you look at their history.

A John Daly-esque stunt at the U.S. Open that compelled Lefty to apologize and describe himself as embarrassed, starting a conversation that promised to last the summer and beyond?

Hey, did I happen to mention that I’m going to wrestle Tiger Woods in a $10 million winner-take-all that might make Vince McMahon blush?

Yes, Lefty started publicly campaigning for a steel-cage match against Tiger before his Shinnecock meltdown on the 13th green. Now, it’s official. Woods and Mickelson will meet in a winner-take-all $9 million match play event Friday, Nov. 23, at Shadow Creek Golf Course in Las Vegas. The event will be televised on pay-per-view by Turner’s B/R Live platform, in addition to DirecTV and AT&T U-verse. Pricing has not been set.

I bet you think this is the easiest $9M you will ever make😂

— Phil Mickelson (@PhilMickelson) August 22, 2018

At a Players Championship news conference in May, he steered a question about his pairing with Woods into an opportunity to say it would be a ton of fun to “bypass all the ancillary stuff of a tournament and just go to a head-to-head” with the defining titan of his generation — or any generation.

“It’s been four years since we’ve been paired last on Thursday-Friday,” Mickelson said at the Players, “and I don’t think we should wait for the governing bodies to put us together. I think we should just do something on our own and get after it.”

Woods responded, “I’m definitely not against that. We’ll play for whatever makes him uncomfortable.”

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Woods then outplayed Mickelson over two days at TPC Sawgrass, leaving their proposed duel in the sun dormant until Lefty jolted it back to life in a Golf.com story Friday that reported the match nearly happened on July 3 in Las Vegas (where else?) and that negotiations between the players’ camps were advancing toward a firm date.

“I couldn’t do it on my own,” Mickelson then told the website. “He couldn’t do it on his own. But together, we’re [trying] to create something pretty special.”

If nothing else, this story created a needed diversion for Mickelson, still wounded after his biggest U.S. Open mistake since his second shot on the 72nd hole at Winged Foot in 2006. Who wants to talk about an intentional swipe at a moving ball to spite the USGA in the middle of the national championship when Tiger and Phil are about to go one-on-one for big bucks in a staredown that might draw more TV viewers than a Masters Sunday?

As the lesser historical figure, Mickelson has more to gain here. He has long credited Woods for enhancing his career, and bank account, by dramatically increasing prize money and endorsement opportunities for all pros. At 48, Mickelson realizes his winning days might be over. Given the likelihood that a Lefty-Tiger final pairing on a major championship Sunday isn’t going to happen, it makes sense for Mickelson to find creative ways to monetize his association with the 42-year-old Woods, who owns huge career advantages in major titles (14-5) and tour victories (79-43) over the second-best player of his era.

But their pending faceoff raises some important questions for a sport often struggling to capture the attention of American sports fans who are already overserved by baseball, football and basketball, and who pay attention to golf only four weeks a year (maybe five in a Ryder Cup year). Included among the more pressing questions are these:

Doesn’t a manufactured TV event cheapen the game?

No, made-for-TV matches are part of golf history. While Woods’ exhibitions under the lights with past and present, male and female stars early in his prime didn’t make any lasting impact, “Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf” was a viewing treasure. That series started pitting aging greats against each other in the 1960s, when you could watch Ben Hogan vs. Sam Snead, and later in the 1990s, when you could watch Jack Nicklaus vs. Arnold Palmer and Gary Player vs. Lee Trevino.

Doesn’t the constant coverage of Tiger and Phil hurt the tour’s attempt to market this new wave of 20-something American stars?

Golf’s advantage over more physically taxing sports is its ability to ride its transcendent champions into their 40s and beyond. Tom Watson was one putt away from winning his sixth Open Championship title at age 59. Nicklaus had a legitimate chance to win his seventh green jacket at Augusta at age 58. The fan, player and media buzz around the Tiger-Phil practice round at this year’s Masters said it all, and so did this photo of the masses following Woods at the Quicken Loans National.

The Jordan Spieths and Brooks Koepkas and Patrick Reeds can wait until Woods puts away his clubs for keeps.

Tiger doesn’t have any genuine respect for Phil, does he?

He does now. In the old days, no, he didn’t. Woods started changing the way he felt about Mickelson in 2004, when Lefty finally broke through and won his first major title. The following year, during their epic Sunday showdown at Doral, Mickelson hit it in close in what would ultimately be a losing effort. The crowd went wild. “Great f—ing shot, Phil!” Woods shouted above the noise. Tiger’s respect for Phil has grown over time, in part because Mickelson won five majors and three legs of the Grand Slam and, in part, because Lefty started competing fiercely against Woods. Tiger’s career advantage in head-to-head rounds was only 16-15-4 before going 2-0 at the Players.

Come on, isn’t this really a mere money-grab gimmick involving two zillionaires?

You can call it that. Or you can call it the opening of a vaudeville act between two wise graybeards who realized, like Arnie and Jack, that there was easy money to be made off the competitive tension and stylistic differences between them while younger guns were dominating the tour.

Either way, golf has always leaned on individual star power and rivalries between men who, deep down, don’t really like each other. Men like Phil and Tiger. Lefty and Righty.

If the game couldn’t deliver Woods and Mickelson in a Sunday fight at Augusta National, their $9 million poker game in Vegas would be the next best thing.

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No, Tiger and Phil aren’t in their primes. Ian O’Connor’s response to that: Who cares? A winner-take-all, $9 million grudge match is good for them, golf and us.

#AskAlan mailbag: Can Tiger win the Open, and do PGA Tour pros actually like links golf?

We begin this week with a reference to my tweet stating that the British Open is the best week of the season. On Twitter, @CHFounder replied, “It is the best week. I’m giddy. I have my reasons for believing this. What are yours?” The Masters is more glamorous, the U.S. Open a more exacting test, but the Open Championship is the most freewheeling fun we get all year. The golf is raw and elemental, the course (especially this week) wild and and untamed, the weather unpredictable and often defining. Add it all up and nothing tests the players’ shotmaking, creativity and critical thinking like the Open.

And then there are the small pleasures: the spectacular fish n’ chips sold on the course; the canyon of bleachers surrounding the 18th hole; the daily bets at the Ladbrokes shop on the corner; the glorious nightly ritual of filing a story, eating a quick dinner and then playing golf until 10 p.m. I’m especially excited because en route to Carnoustie I’m stopping in Portrush to peep all the preparations for next year’s Open. I shall report on what I find. Until then…

I think guys who played the Scottish Open last week benefit greatly from a week of links style play. Agree/disagree and why….. [email protected]

For sure it’s better preparation than the John Deere. You can never give yourself too much time to acclimate to the bouncy turf and slower greens and omnipresent cross-winds, to say nothing of the jet lag and English breakfasts. I’m honestly still bitter that Jordan Spieth played the Deere in 2015. When it comes to the Grand Slam, history has shown that even the greatest players only get one bite of the apple: Nicklaus, Woods and Palmer each had only one season in which they won the first two legs of the Grand Slam, as Spieth did in 2015. Not arriving until Monday morning of Open week on the Deere charter simply isn’t the best preparation, for any player.

Winning score? And who finishes second behind Tiger Woods? -Jake (@winfreyjake)

The average winning score over the last four years has been 16 under and I’d be very surprised if it’s not even lower this year, unless the winds howl, which is not in the forecast (and right now rain is expected on Friday, which will take some bite out of the course). Per Tiger, this sets up as a very intriguing test. His weaknesses with the driver were exposed at the Masters and U.S. Open but he can holster it this week, if he is so inclined, though that will put him at a big disadvantage if Rory and other super long hitters do in fact bomb it over most of the bunkers, as has been happening in the early practice rounds.

But we haven’t seen a firm, fiery test like this since Hoylake, which remains one of Tiger’s transcendent performances. His iron play remains the foundation of his game (he’s third on Tour in Strokes Gained approach-the-green) and no one is as adroit at thinking their way around a fiery links. But the fact is, Woods is now below average off the tee and middle of the pack on the greens. He needs to have his best week of his comeback with the putter and driver (even if employed infrequently) to even have a chance. That’s a big ask.

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Tiger Woods tees off for a British Open practice round.

What percentage of the PGA Tour pros actually like links golf? -David (@davidtfbarry)

Less than you think. These guys are all about precision – they want their nine-iron to fly exactly 158 yards and stop dead, because that’s what they’re used to and how they usually prepare. The quirky courses and unpredictable bounces wreaks havoc with their golf OCD. Now, almost every pro is too politic to tell reporters that they don’t like links golf, because they know they’ll be branded as Philistines.

But the candor still leaks out in quasi-private settings. To be sure, plenty of guys do love links golf, and it’s no accident they tend to be the better players who have the well-rounded games and mental acuity to answer the unusual questions presented by the Open.

Is another 62 likely? -Ernie (@efahey81)

If a hard wind doesn’t blow, it’s very likely. The course is effectively playing about 6,000 yards, the greens are pretty flat and very pure, and the rough is not particularly penal. Nasty weather is the course’s only defense. Here’s hoping.

Which non-rota links courses most deserves to host an Open Championship? I acknowledge logistics, access, accommodation and other unfortunate factors limit the field but setting those aside… which course should welcome the Champion Golfer of the Year? -Ian (@DizzyG1964)

It has to be Royal Dornoch, given the course’s grandeur, history and the stern test it presents. It has a special feel and some truly epic holes. The raised, crowned greens – which local boy Donald Ross would export to Pinehurst – make Dornoch unlike any other championship course in the linksland. It’s high time it gets the ultimate championship, remote location be damned.

Is our guy IJP just a poor misunderstood soul. [email protected]

To some degree, yes. But how many other players are compelling marshals to fire off persnickety letters to tournament directors?! There’s no doubt that Poults has become a magnet for yahoo fan behavior and it’s unfortunate he has to deal with that. But at some point you have to ask, why does all the bad juju swirl around this one player?

Do you think Tom Watson’s near-win in ‘09 at age 59 would have been the greatest accomplishment in golf history? [email protected]

How about sports history? This is the one week each year when we get to rue what might have been. But I’ve come to believe it’s better that Watson didn’t win. He’s such a crusty character, I think the tragic hero role suits him better.

Golf was meant to be played firm and fast like at the Open Championship. Is there any way to have golfers in the U.S. embrace this? #BrownIsOk [email protected]

I believe that this century water is going to be what oil was in the last century: a precious resource over which wars are waged. As the global population continues to explode, lush, emerald-colored golf courses are going to become more rare, so I think golfers everywhere are going to have to learn to love burnt-out conditions. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy getting an extra 20 yards of roll off the tee?

But one problem in this discussion is Augusta National. It has become the paragon of golf in this country and brainwashes viewers into thinking that’s what a course is supposed to look like. The USGA is trying to fight back – Pinehurst, Chambers Bay, Erin Hills and Shinnecock were all varying shades of brown. This Open Championship is going to be so much fun to watch I think it will help further nudge folks in the right direction.

Are the Golf Channel employees contractually required to refer to the British Open as The Open? [email protected]

Like us, they are beholden only to the golf gods.

When pros travel, how many clubs do they generally take with them? And can you carry more than 14 during a practice round? -Craig (@Ctank2116)

Sixteen or 17 clubs is pretty standard. Depending on the course and playing conditions, the pros want the option to add an extra wedge, or swap out a long-iron for a hybrid, or vice versa. For a highly unusual playing field like Carnoustie this week, players are carrying more clubs than usual as they assess their options and figure out their strategy. They can lug as many as they want during practice rounds at Carnoustie, though for a pre-tournament pro-am at a regular event they’re supposed to have only 14, since scores count toward the pro-am competition. However, I don’t think anyone really enforces that rule.

Curtis, Cink, Hamilton, Lawrie…why does the British 😉 have more odd winners than other majors? I know the answer I just wanted to call it the British… [email protected]

Well played. The unpredictability of the, ahem, British Open is a huge part of its charm. The nuttiness of Van de Velde/Lawrie has become defining, and it was followed in short order by the Curtis-Hamilton double-dip, but, to be fair, since 2004 all the winners have been world-class.

Higher number: rounds you play this week vs. number of drivers Tiger hits in the entire tournament. #AskAlan [email protected]

I’m not enjoying a golf orgy like many of my brethren, who have been freeloading in Scotland since last week. My kids are on summer break and I already have to ditch them for the U.S. Open and PGA Championship so I try to keep my sojourn to the linksland pretty tight.

I’ll play Portrush, which is amazing, and Bamberger and I are going to hit Elie, the quirky charmer that is among his favorite courses on the planet. We’re sharing a flat in St. Andrews so the plan is to sneak onto the Old Course a couple of hours before sunset and cram in as many holes as possible. Hopefully that’ll happen a few times. And with the very late tee times on the weekend I’m considering getting up early on Saturday and bombing up to my favorite course in the world, Cruden Bay. But that’s a game-time decision. I think Tiger’s gonna nip me, but it might be close.

Alan Shipnuck answers your British Open questions regarding Tiger Woods's chances of winning, the conditions of Carnoustie and more.

What happened to Tiger Woods? It’s the most vexing question in sports

[This story originally appeared in the April 4, 2016, edition of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe now for the in-depth coverage, only in Sports Illustrated!]

On Thanksgiving night in 2009, Tiger Woods’s meticulously crafted image was shattered in a single-car accident outside of his home in Windermere, Fla. The wailing of Woods’s mother, Tida, is audible in the background of the frenzied 911 call that followed: What happened? It remains the most vexing question in sports.

The sex scandal spawned by that messy night is the line of demarcation in Woods’s career. These days Woods, 40, draws comparisons not to Jack Nicklaus but rather to a prostrate Willie Mays in the Mets’ outfield. The most dominant player in history hasn’t claimed a PGA Tour event since 2013 or a major since ’08. Once celebrated for the virtuosity of his short game, Woods was chased from the course last year by a mortifying case of the chip-yips; maybe the fittest golfer ever has been betrayed by his body. Woods hasn’t teed it up at a Tour event since last August, and after enduring three back surgeries in 19 months, there is no timetable for his return. In December, at his tournament in the Bahamas, the Hero World Challenge, Woods said, “There’s really nothing I can look forward to, nothing I can build towards. It’s literally just day by day and week by week and time by time. Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? I don’t know.” Taking stock of his 14 major championships and 79 PGA Tour wins, he added, “I think pretty much everything beyond this will be gravy.”

The tone of resignation sent a shudder through the golf world. “Yeah, I worry about him,” says Steve Stricker, one of the few players on Tour with whom Woods has been close. “I never thought those words would come out of his mouth. He almost seemed content that he wasn’t going to play again.” By March, Woods was chipping and putting and making easy swings with a 9-iron, but he appears nowhere close to being able to tee it up in next week’s Masters. A more realistic hope is that the world’s 472nd-ranked player will turn up for the champions dinner, another step in his becoming little more than a ceremonial presence in the game.

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Woods has retreated to his $60 million compound on Jupiter Island, Fla., a dream house he designed with Elin Nordegren but now inhabits mostly alone after their tabloid divorce in 2010. By his own admission he kills much of the day playing video games. Woods’s spread is on a narrow spit framed by the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River. Along this stretch of South Beach Road, every house is a fortress, hidden behind tall gates and immaculate foliage. His isolation is profound. “We all wonder about him, wonder if he’s lonely,” says Tour player Stuart Appleby, a former neighbor in Windermere. “What is loneliness? Is it having regrets for the things you’ve done? There has to be a rebooting of his life because he’s got decades and decades left. You hope that in this time away he can find some peace.”

A doting father to daughter Sam, 8, and son Charlie, 7, Woods has been spotted in the last few months at a couple of his kids’ soccer games, and there have been occasional sightings at his swank new restaurant, The Woods Jupiter. But other than one press conference in early March pegged to a Tiger Woods Design golf course project outside Houston, he has largely retreated from public view. In February, when the Tour was in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Nicklaus hosted a dinner at his home for U.S. Ryder Cup hopefuls, and Woods made a surprise appearance. Says Jimmy Walker, “I talked to him for just a second. I said, ‘Wow, you’re standing up.’ He said, ‘I know, everyone thinks I’m dead now.’ “

Woods is the same age Nicklaus was when he won the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship. (The Bear’s last major title, at the Masters, would come six years later.) Given that Tiger has taken four green jackets with three different golf swings, one more reinvention is not inconceivable. Can he reclaim his destiny and break Nicklaus’s record of 18 major championships? That quest seems incidental in the face of the question that still festers: What happened? To answer that, it is necessary to examine Woods’s life and career, with all of his flaws, contradictions and triumphs.

November 2003

Ahead of the Presidents Cup in George, Western Cape, South Africa, Woods and Nordegren, then his girlfriend, vacationed with Charles Howell III and his wife, Heather. Woods wanted to cage dive amid the great whites that feed in the waters around Seal Island, off the coast of Cape Town.

“We chummed the water for seven or eight hours, but there’s not a shark to be seen,” Howell recalls. “Tiger is bored out of his mind. He’s wearing a wet suit to dive into the cage in case any sharks come, and suddenly he just jumps into open water. He’s decided to swim over to the island and get up close to the seals. The guys on the boat are going nuts, shouting for Tiger to come back, but he just keeps swimming, through all the chum. The seals start hopping around and hollering like they do. Tiger is having a great time. After what seems like an eternity, he swims back and casually gets on the boat.” Howell pauses for a moment, lost in the story. “He’s just different from normal people,” he adds. “Completely fearless.”

After four intense days the Presidents Cup match was tied 17–17. Rules dictated that one player from each team be sent off in a sudden-death playoff. Nicklaus, the U.S. captain, chose Woods, of course. Tiger was coming off his most spectacular stretch of golf, having won seven of 11 major championships from the 1999 PGA through the 2002 U.S. Open. International team captain Gary Player tabbed Ernie Els, who was playing on home soil. Woods and Els halved the first two holes and, with the sun setting, arrived at the par-3 2nd hole at Fancourt Country Club. Both faced par putts: Els from five feet, Woods from 15. Players from each team encircled the green. All these years later Jerry Kelly says, “Look at my arm, I’m getting chills right now just thinking about it! It was an electric atmosphere. Tiger’s putt was basically impossible. It was pretty much pitch-black; I don’t know how he could even see the hole.” Woods poured in the bender. (Els made his too, and the match ended in a tie.) For many of the 23 colleagues who saw Woods hole the putt in the dark, it remains the quintessential Tiger moment. “He knew he was going to make it,” says Mike Weir, a member of the International team. “It’s almost like he believed it so much, he created it and manifested that it would happen. That’s probably what separated him more than anything else: his belief.”

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January 2015

When Jordan Spieth was 11, one shot changed his life, but it wasn’t one he struck. Back then Spieth was a pitcher with a filthy curveball and a shooting guard who could fill up a stat sheet. “I was just starting to pick golf as my No. 1 sport and fall in love with it,” Spieth says. “That really cemented it.”

That was Woods’s chip-in on the 70th hole of the 2005 Masters, which he played to a slope well past the pin and fed back into the cup, pretty much stealing a green jacket from Chris DiMarco. It took perfect execution — Woods was aiming for an old pitch mark and landed it bang on — but the shot was a distillation of his imagination. Watching at home in Dallas, Spieth was thunderstruck. “It made me want to go out that day, that evening, and work on my short game,” he says.

Ten years later at the Phoenix Open, Spieth was paired with Woods and another young gun, Patrick Reed, who also grew up idolizing Tiger. As late as May 2014, Woods had been the world No. 1, but he lost most of the rest of that year to his first back surgery. In Phoenix for his ’15 season debut, he was working with the fourth swing instructor of his pro career, Chris Como. In front of Spieth and Reed and all of the golfing world, the damnedest thing happened: Woods chunked, bladed, scooped, chili-dipped and skanked chip after chip. It was a horror show. Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee calls it “one of the most shocking things in golf history.”

After his second-round 82, Woods obfuscated with technical mumbo jumbo about the grind on his wedges and the “release pattern” in a chipping motion that Como had altered. Reed, like everybody else, saw through it. “It was hard to watch,” he says. “Some holes he was just barely off the green and couldn’t even hit the green with a chip. You know, I felt really bad, because going into the week he seemed to be enthusiastic about being back.”

August 1995

The dawn of the Tiger Woods era came at the ’95 U.S. Amateur. Woods was 1 up on Buddy Marucci playing the 36th and last hole of the match-play final. With Marucci on the green, Tiger stood over a 140-yard approach at Newport (R.I.) Country Club. On the ESPN telecast Johnny Miller murmured, with zealotry of the recently converted, “I wouldn’t be surprised if he knocks it a foot from the hole.” In fact, Woods put it to 18 inches. Game over.

A couple of hours later Tiger’s father, Earl, was at a victory party. Intoxicated by the moment, and perhaps his champagne, he said, “I’m going to make a prediction. Before he’s through, my son will win 14 major championships.”

It was an interesting number, given that Nicklaus had always been the family measuring stick. Perhaps Earl knew that the great Bobby Jones had won 13 majors, and that exceeding this total had been Nicklaus’s lifelong goal. When he did, the Bear fell into a period of ennui before he went back to rewriting the record books. Did the number 14 set Tiger on the path to greatness or somehow stunt an endless future? Earl had a knack for predicting the future, but even he couldn’t have known all that awaited his boy. Yet on a long ago night in Newport he had already seen enough. “To my son, Tiger,” Earl said, raising the Amateur trophy in a toast. “One of the greatest golfers in the history of the United States.”

September 1981

On his first day of kindergarten in Anaheim, Woods was tied to a tree by a group of older boys, who pelted him with rocks and spray-painted “n—–” on his chest. Recounting this story for Barbara Walters, among others, Tiger reinforced his own sense of otherness. He and his father became atuned to the side-eye that often greeted them at country clubs as Tiger played his way through the golf firmament. Superstardom did not insulate him; as Woods was razing Augusta National at the 1997 Masters, a sheriff’s car was stationed outside his rental house because of death threats. An ugly controversy followed the victory when a video surfaced of Fuzzy Zoeller, the 1979 Masters champ, calling Woods “little boy” to reporters and advising him not to serve fried chicken at the following year’s champions dinner. This is of a piece with Woods’s former looper Steve Williams saying, at a caddie banquet in 2011, that he had so heartily celebrated a victory with his new boss, Adam Scott, because, “I wanted to shove it up [Tiger’s] black arsehole.” In ’13, Sergio García followed with his own stupid joke involving fried chicken.

There was even a racial component to Woods’s sex scandal. The parade of mistresses were all white and most of them blonde, leading to -lowbrow songs on morning radio shows and musings in highbrow places such as The Guardian. (“The Tiger Woods scandal . . . threatens to ignite a national debate in America’s black community on interracial relationships.”) A Vanity Fair cover photo of Woods — shirtless, in a black beanie with a glowering expression — compelled Mark Anthony Neal, a professor in the African-American studies department at Duke, to describe Woods as being “n—–ized” during the coverage of his fall from grace.

As every aspect of Woods’s life became subject to reexamination, his kindergarten teacher came forward to say the stoning had never happened and demanded an apology. At least one former classmate and his mother backed up the teacher. Woods has never addressed this publicly. But even if the tale is exaggerated, or even fabricated, Woods had accurately foretold the ugliness that was to come.

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September 2013

Woods’s honesty between the ropes came into question after he committed three serious rules infractions in 2013. The most troubling incident occurred during the second round of the BMW Championship. At the 1st hole his ball settled in a grove of trees, atop twigs and leaves. While clearing the loose impediments, the ball moved. Woods hesitated, recoiled his hand and immediately stepped away but said nothing to his playing partners, Scott and Henrik Stenson. It was caught on video, and in a postround meeting with Tour officials Woods explained that he thought his ball had “oscillated” and returned to its exact same position, which would not have been a penalty.

When Scott and Stenson viewed the replays, they had no doubt it was a penalty. “It’s obvious the ball moved a little bit,” says Scott. Adds Stenson, “Like everyone else I saw the footage, and it seemed quite clear his ball had moved.”

In his heated discussion with rules official Slugger White, Woods refused to accept what was apparent to the rest of the world. Over Tiger’s protestations, White imposed a two-stroke penalty. For many in golf this moment was window into Woods’s soul. He had long been celebrated as a sportsman; now, had he become so desperate to regain his former standing he was willing to commit golf’s cardinal sin and break the rules? As always with Woods, there are questions but no definitive answers. But whether it was a kindergarten tale or a misadventure in the trees, it was now clear in the aftershocks of the sex scandal that Tiger would no longer be entitled to his own set of facts.

August 2011

Seeking metamorphosis after the scandal, Woods began working with Sean Foley, a new age swing instructor more likely to quote Ghandi than Harvey Penick. They had been together for nine months when Foley received frightening news: The baby his wife, Kate, was carrying had been diagnosed with a diaphragmatic hernia. Half of the babies born with this condition don’t survive.

Kate went into labor in the early hours of Aug. 26. “I got six or seven voice mails that morning from Tiger,” says Foley. “‘Dude, I’ve been up all night thinking about you and the baby, please call me with an update when you can.’ I could hear the emotion in his voice.”

Kieran has grown into a healthy, active kid, and Woods never fails to ask about him when he sees Foley, even though the two parted ways in 2014. A trail of discarded relationships — personal and professional — is an enduring theme in Woods’s life. Onetime friends such as Mark O’Meara and Charles Barkley have complained about Woods’s inaccessibility, but that’s not a consideration for Foley.

“Is that really the test of a friendship, whether someone returns your text messages?” he says. “All I know is that during the scariest time of my life, Tiger was amazingly supportive. He said some extremely beautiful things to me. I mean, he’s still my favorite player. He’s still my guy.”

June 2006

Earl Woods died on May 3, 2006, at 74, after a long battle with cancer and heart ailments that was presaged by a lifetime of drinking and smoking. Tiger took six weeks off and returned for the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Playing with little conviction, he bogeyed the first three holes of the first round. It would be the first time in 38 starts as a pro that he missed the cut at a major. For his playing partner, Edoardo Molinari, Woods’s struggles were proof of his humanity. “That just shows that we all have feelings, and sometimes those feelings can be hard to contain,” Molinari says. “At the end of the day Tiger is made of skin and bone, flesh and blood.”

“That’s one interpretation,” Hank Haney said in a recent interview. “I see it a little differently. That was the only time in his career there were no expectations, the one time he had an excuse to not be Tiger Woods. I think this guy was already tired of living in his life, and here comes a free pass to not be Tiger Woods for a week. He jumped on it so fast it’s unbelievable.”

It’s a brutal analysis, but one born of Haney’s own experiences. He served as Woods’s swing coach for six years beginning in the spring of 2004, after Tiger and Butch Harmon split. Haney spent 50 nights a year sleeping in Tiger’s guest bedroom and thousands of hours standing next to him on the range. He came to see Woods’s golfing genius as both a gift and a burden. In his 2012 memoir, The Big Miss: My Years Coaching Tiger Woods, Haney recalled the 2005 Buick Invitational. It was Woods’s first Tour victory following his $1.5 million Caribbean wedding to Nordegren, and she was understandably thrilled, saying they should throw a party as was the custom when she worked as a nanny for Jesper Parnevik and he won a tournament. Woods quickly deflated her: “E, that’s not what we do. I’m not Jesper. We’re supposed to win.”

Seven months earlier, following the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock, Woods had made a startling remark to Williams: “Stevie, I think I’ve had enough of golf. I’d really like to try to be a Navy SEAL.” (This is taken from Williams’s recent autobiography, Out of the Rough; Woods has always had trust issues, and tell-alls from two intimates can’t have helped.)

The public first heard about Woods’s role-playing with the military in April 2004, when he did four days of training with special operations forces at Fort Bragg, N.C. It seemed like a showy one-off, a chance for Tiger to connect with his father’s background as a Green Beret. But in private Woods revered the SEALs, repeatedly watching DVDs of their training and spending hours at a time playing a SEALs combat video game. According to Haney, Woods went on numerous training missions in the years after the Fort Bragg visit. This might help explain Tiger’s penchant for running wind sprints in a weighted vest, jogging in combat boots and pushing heavy metal in the gym, activities that seemed to have little to do with his golf fitness.

The 6’ 1″ Woods arrived on Tour in 1996 with the perfect body for golf: supple and sinewy. By the mid-aughts he had packed on 20 more pounds of muscle, reaching the high 180s. He enjoyed showing off his increasingly intimidating physique, often jogging shirtless through Isleworth, the exclusive Florida community that was also home to a dozen or so fellow tour pros, including John Cook. “I would be on the back of the range, beating balls,” says Cook, “and Tiger would come up after an eight-mile run: no shirt, hat backward, sunglasses, body soaked with sweat. He would grab my 2-iron and start hitting these missiles. How you going to beat that? You can’t beat that.” Which is exactly what Woods wanted to hear — not his trainer advising him to lose 10 pounds or the doctor who performed his left ACL surgery in 2008 recommending he slim back to 165. Woods ignored the advice, but all of his significant injuries have been to load-bearing body parts: knee, both Achilles tendons, neck, lower back.

In 2006 and ’07, Woods talked more and more about becoming a SEAL, and Haney became so exasperated by what he felt was an unhealthy obsession that one day in 2007, while they practiced in a bunker at Isleworth, he played his trump card: “Are you out of your mind? What about Nicklaus’s record? Don’t you care about that?”

“No,” Woods replied. “I’m satisfied with what I’ve done in my career.”

Looking back, Haney now says, “That was a big wow. I finally understood he really doesn’t give a s—. It was obvious in the way his work ethic fell off and in his attitude on the course that he had lost a lot of his desire. On some level he was just tired of being Tiger Woods.”

Woods finally gave up his dream of being a SEAL after a meeting with his agent, Mark Steinberg, in August 2007 at the Bridgestone Invitational; the birth of Tiger’s daughter two months earlier was surely a factor as well. Beginning with his victory at that Bridgestone and the following week’s PGA Championship, Woods went on a 10-month run during which he won 10 of 13 tournaments, including two majors. Having given up on the idea of playing soldier, Woods was back to business as usual, and he would have to indulge in another form of escapism.

August 2009

The 2008 U.S. Open was the ultimate myth-making performance for Woods, as he conquered the sport’s most demanding tournament with two stress fractures in his left tibia. He was 32, with 14 major championships in the bank. Knee surgery then sidelined Woods for eight months, but ’06 U.S. Open champ Geoff Ogilvy still says, “At that point I would have bet you every dollar I had that he would break Jack’s record.” Woods spent the 2009 season rounding back into form. By early August he had won five tournaments, but he was uncharacteristically shaky in the majors, failing to convert opportunities at the Masters and the U.S. Open and missing the cut at the British. At the PGA Championship at Hazeltine, Woods forged a two-stroke lead through 54 holes. To that point he was 14 for 14 in closing out a Saturday-night lead at a major, and this ruthless efficiency largely defined his legend. “I studied him long before I began working with him,” says Foley. “On Sundays [at major championships] he would walk onto the range like an emperor. It’s elegant. Guys stopped hitting balls just to watch him walk. He knows that he is going to beat you. You know that he is going to beat you. He knows that you know, and you know that he knows.”

Paired with 37-year-old journeyman Y.E. Yang, Woods battled his putter throughout the final round, and on the 71st hole he faced an eight-footer to save par and retain a piece of the lead. He didn’t scare the hole. “You go back to the U.S. Juniors, and Tiger hadn’t missed a putt he had to make in almost two decades,” says Paul Azinger. Yang closed out Woods with a kick-in birdie at the last.

Two weeks after the stunning defeat at the PGA, Woods made his next start at the Barclays, a FedEx Cup playoff event. On the 72nd hole he stood over a seven-foot birdie putt that would have tied him for the lead. Zach Johnson was sitting on his golf bag near the 18th green at Liberty National, watching the action. When Woods whiffed the putt, Johnson turned to a reporter and said, “I’m in shock. He makes that a hundred times out of a hundred.”

Padraig Harrington, a three-time major champion, has a different take. “The funny thing about golf,” he says, “is that once you miss an eight-footer that matters, it becomes a little bit easier to miss the next one. Even for Tiger Woods.”

August 1991

When he was 15, Woods was part of the Canon Cup, a team event that pits junior golfers from the western U.S. against rivals from the East. His roommate that week in Colorado Springs was garrulous Jason Gore, who would later join Woods on the PGA Tour. “It’s a bunch of teenagers away from home, of course there’s a lot of goofing off,” says Gore. “But Tiger went to bed every night at 7:30. It was like, Dude, what are you doing? I’ll never forget the sight of him with the blankets pulled under his chin, and he’s peeking out in those huge glasses he used to wear. He was Eldrick back then, not Tiger. Take away the money and fame and all that stuff, and deep down he’s just a golf nerd.”

That’s a word that crops up over and over. During the Isleworth years one of Woods’s closest friends was a college golfer at Central Florida named Corey Carroll, who got a nearly perfect score on the SAT; Haney describes him as “a little nerdy.” What did he and Woods discuss in their quiet time together? Says Carroll, “He had a bit of a fascination with cosmology and theoretical physics.” Howell is also reserved and studious. Mention to him that Woods seemed to gravitate toward a certain type, and Howell says, “You mean nerds?” Not for nothing, Woods’s nickname among the Stanford golf team was Urkel after the Family Matters TV character who is, yes, famously nerdy.

In this context Woods’s serial infidelity can be seen as a kind of a high school geek’s wish-fulfillment. His attitudes toward sex, love and marriage were also influenced at home. Lieut. Col. Woods was stationed in Thailand when he wooed Tida. She spoke barely any English and Earl only the slightest bit of Thai. Did this look like a union of equals to their son? Earl was openly disdainful of the institution of marriage, saying, “Let’s face it, a wife can be a deterrent to a good game of golf.” He predicted that if his son married before he was 30, it would “destroy” him. (Tiger was 28 when he wed Nordegren.) Earl also shared with The New York Times, “I’ve told Tiger that marriage is unnecessary in a mobile society like ours.”

In fact, Earl was an unrepentant womanizer throughout his marriage to Tida. In His Father’s Son, the Woods family biographer, Tom Callahan, writes, “Any woman who ventured within fifty feet of Earl was a potential plaintiff.” Earl’s skirt-chasing was an open secret in the golf world. In 1998 he traveled with Tiger to South Africa, the trip during which the two met Nelson Mandela and Earl memorably described it as “the first time Tiger met a human being who was equal to him, who was as powerful as Tiger was.” At the subsequent Million Dollar Challenge in Sun City, players, caddies and tournament staff were clustered in one hotel. One caddie told me, “I was on the same floor as Earl, and all week long there was a parade of girls to his room.”

A much more public parade of this kind would ultimately be Tiger’s undoing. This leads back to Haney’s thesis: “If he’s trapped in a life he doesn’t want, the only way the whole thing can end is if he self-destructs. You have to draw the conclusion that in some way Tiger wanted to be caught.”

April 2010

Six years later it’s easy to forget the intensity with which the scandal raged: the steady stream of exceptionally graphic text messages to his paramours that were leaked to the media; the front-cover treatment in the New York Post for 20 consecutive days; the photograph of Woods at a sex-addiction treatment facility in Hattiesburg, Miss., looking both hunted and haunted.

After four months in exile Woods made his return to the game at the 2010 Masters, to a public shaming from Augusta National chairman Billy Payne. Woods arrived at the 1st tee on Thursday in dark sunglasses, as if he were hiding behind the tinted windows of a limousine, then responded with one of the more remarkable performances of his career. Playing his first tournament in five months, he made two eagles in a first-round 68 and followed with a 70 to sit only two shots off the lead. Along the way he made good on his pledge to be more of a golfing gentleman, at one point high-fiving a little girl in the crowd and toning down the churlish outbursts that in the past had often followed poor shots.

The new Tiger lasted all of 36 holes. Following the second round, “We were walking from the media centre to the practice range,” Williams writes, “when Steinberg told Tiger that if he wanted to win the tournament he had to ‘stop being a nice guy’ and go back to being his old self.”

Woods shot a 70 in the third round and was still in good position, four strokes behind the leader, Lee Westwood. But during his warmup session on Sunday, Woods was sullen, surly and distant with both his caddie and swing coach. Haney became convinced he was just going through the motions. It was as if Tiger was caught between his old self and the new one, unsure of who to be. “Nobody has shown up at a tournament more in character than Tiger Woods,” says Azinger. “He was as much an actor as an athlete. He showed up on Sunday in a shirt the color of blood. After all the problems in his life, what character could he possibly play?”

Woods took all this bad energy onto the course, bogeying three of the first five holes to fall seven behind. But then he holed his approach on the 7th for an eagle and followed with birdies on 8 and 9 to roar back into contention. He still had a chance when he stiffed his approach to seven feet on the 14th hole. But then Woods missed not only that putt but also the ensuing 18-inch tap-in, ending his bid. The carelessness was unprecedented. “I didn’t believe my eyes,” says his playing partner that day, K.J. Choi. “Something strange happened. I still can’t believe he missed that. That’s not the real Tiger Woods.”

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June 2010

Steinberg’s comment cuts to the heart of a fundamental question: Would becoming a better person make Woods a worse golfer? The money, the fame, the women — all of it fed a deep sense of entitlement; in his mind, he deserved to win simply because he was Tiger Woods. There was little room for nurturing friendships. Says Gore, “At tournaments he would look at you and burn a hole right through you, like you didn’t even exist. He did that to me all the time, and I’ve know him probably longer than anybody on Tour.” After the scandal Gore could sense that Woods felt a strong need for connection: “He realized there’s more going on in this world than birdies and bogeys. He started asking about my wife, asking about my kids. It was nice to see him be, you know, normal.”

This more human version of Woods was on display in the most surprising of settings: the crucible of the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open, at Pebble Beach. That national championship was always going to be a referendum on Woods’s game; he was returning to the site of his most dominant victory, a 15-shot laugher at the Open a decade earlier. For the first 45 holes he looked overmatched by the moment, but then Woods caught fire on the back nine on Saturday. He rode a series of spectacular shots to a 66 that propelled him to third place.

For the final round Woods was paired with Gregory Havret, a Frenchman who was playing in only his fourth major. He has vivid memories of the round. “Tiger didn’t play all that well,” Havret says, “but we chatted all the way around the course. On hole number 9 it totally surprised me when Tiger said that he knew I had a child, and he asked me how my daughter, Jeanne, was getting on. He asked a few things about what it was like growing up in France. Then on the 16th hole it was quite funny — he said he had read in the newspapers that there was a strike in France, and he asked me to explain who was striking and why.”

Havret bettered Woods by three strokes that day. For him to say his companion didn’t play well is the epitome of Continental good manners; Tiger three-putted the 1st hole, hit a snap hook into a tree off the 3rd tee and knocked it into the ocean on number 6. He bogeyed six of the first 12 holes to blow himself out of the tournament; afterward he moaned about the condition of the greens and blamed three bogeys on Williams’s club selections. Woods’s mistakes in the final round of the Masters, two months earlier, were easily rationalized, but the implosion at Pebble signaled that something had fundamentally changed. In just 10 months Woods had been Y.E. Yang’d, blown a crucial 72nd hole putt at the Barclays, suffered the worst public disgrace of the Internet age, yipped a gimme in crunch time at the Masters and fallen apart at the U.S. Open.

There is the pervasive belief that in the wake of the scandal Woods’s peers were less intimidated, hastening his demise. Harrington believes an inward gaze was more damaging: “He had an invincible air, and then suddenly he had frailties. But it’s not what we thought about the frailties that mattered, it is what he thought. Up to that point he was the most self-confident person I’d ever come across. Invincible, in a sense. I might have kept believing that except it became quite clear that Tiger himself no longer did.”

February 2016

The Tiger Woods Learning Center is a sleek 35,000-square-foot building tucked into a quiet corner of Anaheim. It abuts the Dad Miller Golf Course, one of the scruffy munis where Woods learned the game. The TWLC has a driving range and a mobile unit to conduct clinics, but golf is a miniscule part of the mission. The center is a launchpad to upward mobility.

Every year the foundation hosts students from more than 100 schools across Southern California. (About 90% of those schools are Title 1, meaning a minimum of 40% of their students live below the poverty line.) On a quiet Thursday in February elementary school kids from Hemet, a town 75 miles to the east, filled the various classrooms. There were classes on nutrition, forensic science (including DIY finger-printing kits) and a course on robotics that taught students to learn how to code software. Later they would all get to explore the computer lab, with its 30 gleaming monitors, and visit the state-of-art 150-person auditorium and browse the materials in the academic support area, its walls covered with pennants from dozens of elite colleges. From the soaring atrium that greets visitors to the sparkling classrooms to the effervescence of the staffers, everything about the center is designed to wow the kids. “Honestly, this was the first place I ever felt valued,” says Mehrab Sarwar, who grew up in Anaheim, studied regularly at the center after school and now works as the coordinator of the Earl Woods Scholarship Program. “It’s the first place I ever felt like I had advocates who cared about my future.”

College preparedness is a driving force of the Tiger Woods Foundation; the learning center hosts regular workshops on how to navigate the maze of the application and financial-aid process. The Earl Woods Scholarship Program began in 2006, the year the learning center opened with President Clinton as the keynote speaker. The first class of scholars featured five kids, each of whom received $5,000 annually toward college tuition. This year 131 students will receive the $5,000 stipend, and the goal is to double the number of scholars in the next five years. Thanks to a strong mentoring program, the foundation reports a 100% graduation rate. Says Evan Chang, a scholarship alum who just graduated from NYU medical school, “I’m from a low-income, single-parent household, I’m first-generation to go to college — it’s very humbling that Tiger Woods cares enough to help someone like me.”

The foundation’s good deeds are made possible by Woods’s largess, not to mention his -fund-raising hustle. He kicked in $16 million toward capital campaigns and every year donated his winnings from the World Challenge and two Tour events affiliated with the foundation, which amounted to more than $10 million. When the World Challenge couldn’t secure title sponsorship in 2012, Woods put up $4 million to keep it going. To raise money each year, he hosts the Tiger Jam in Las Vegas and an exclusive pro-am in Pebble Beach. The commitment of time and resources is substantial — he presides over all board meetings, usually in person — but Woods believes that the foundation is a key to his legacy. He declined to be interviewed for this story but agreed to answer questions about his philanthropy by email. “It’s one of my primary purposes,” Woods writes. “I hope people will remember me for what the foundation accomplished, and not as much for what I did on the golf course. There are kids now at the learning center who have no idea that I play golf, and I think that’s great.”

For Woods the work of the foundation is his way of paying tribute to his father, who remains a palpable presence around the learning center, and not just because of the bronze statue in the atrium. Writes Woods, “Mom and Pop always made sure education came first. Family and education were the priorities in our home.” He is trying to impart similar values to his own children: “My kids know that we’re very fortunate, and that there are many people who could use some help. Also, like my Pop said to me, and what I say to Sam and Charlie, care and share.”

In recent years Woods has spoken more openly about his children, with whom he shares custody with his ex-wife. “He and Elin are good friends,” says Jesper Parnevik, who remains close to his former nanny. “He’s a great dad. He spends a lot of time and does a lot of fun stuff with the kids.” Parnevik helped broker the romance between Woods and Nordegren, and when the scandal broke, he was the most vociferous of any pro golfer in his criticism of Woods. It’s a measure of how far Tiger has come since then that Parnevik now says, “All I hear are positive things.”

lazy placeholder - I Want To Play Golf With Tiger Woods

March 2012

After going winless for more than 900 days, Woods prevailed at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, beating Graeme McDowell on a taut Sunday. McDowell is a U.S. Open champ and a Ryder Cup hero, but he turns into a gushing fanboy remembering that day: “It’s nice to have played with him when he’s been close to his best. When it’s all said and done, it’ll be a great memory to say I had a few chances to stand toe-to-toe with perhaps the greatest player of all time.”

Over the next 17 months Woods would win seven more times, a great career for most guys. But even as he summited the World Ranking again, a glum reality could not be denied: He was now a demonstrably lesser player. In 2012 and ’13, Woods had five realistic chances to win a major, but he could not close the deal; his weekend scoring average was significantly higher than in the first two rounds. The metaphysical challenges were significant. Foley, Woods’s swing coach in that period, says, “Tuesday at a major is one of funniest places to be because everyone is so anxious as they have laid the seeds of expectation for many months. Common sense says that Tiger was affected too. Those tournaments meant so much to him.”

But the problems were not just in his head. In the preceding five years he had sustained numerous dings and injuries, robbing him of practice time and some of his athleticism. Woods’s revamped swing under Foley had much more shaft lean at impact; the trajectory of Tiger’s irons became lower, and off the tee he struggled to play a draw. The PGA Tour’s strokes gained statistic illustrates how many shots per round a player is picking up or losing to the competition in every facet of the game. Less powerful and less accurate with the longest clubs, Woods lost more than a shot per round in strokes gained driving from 2009 to ’13, falling from 15th on Tour to 92nd. This shortcoming was magnified at the major championships, with their steeper penalty for errant tee shots, just as his less versatile ball flight became more problematic coming into firmer greens. And whether it was frayed nerve endings or deteriorating technique, Woods was also losing his scoring touch. In 2009 he picked up .99 strokes per round with his putting. In ’12 and ’13 that number dropped to .43 and .52, respectively. The efficiency of his chipping and pitching also plummeted; in the strokes-gained-short-game stat Woods’s advantage was .71 strokes per round in ’09, but that fell off to .27 in ’12 and .31 the following year. Factor in the driving, chipping and putting, and the postscandal Woods was essentially eight strokes per tournament worse than he had been in 2009, which is not even one of his seven or eight best seasons.

“For the first dozen years of his career Tiger always played the correct shot,” says Golf Channel’s Chamblee. “He had the skill and technique and fearlessness to pull it off when others were afraid to even try. When he came back [after the scandal], he was a different golfer. He was more one-dimensional, and he played much more defensively. He seemed to have a fear of missing left, so everything was a trap-cut. He had so much know-how he learned to play around these deficiencies and still find ways to win, but the majors exposed all of his weaknesses. He may have been the player of the year in 2013, but the gap between him and everybody else was closing rapidly.”

And then Woods’s back gave out.

August 2015

After the chip-yips at the Phoenix Open, Woods’s next start came a week later in La Jolla, outside San Diego. His play around the greens was nearly as horrific as it had been in the desert, and he withdrew after 12 holes, saying he wasn’t able to “activate my glutes,” a phrase that immediately passed into legend. Woods took the next two months off and by his own account hit tens of thousands of chips in his backyard. He returned to action at Augusta National, which, with its extremely tight lies and crazy greens could not have offered a more stressful test. It is a monument to Woods’s grit that he survived the week without a single relapse. But the chip-yips live inside you forever, like a virus. For the rest of the year Woods was much more wary when chipping. His scrambling percentage of 46.77% would have comfortably ranked dead last on Tour if he had played enough rounds to qualify for the statistic. (In 2009, Woods led the Tour in scrambling, getting up and down 68.18% of the time.)

The 17th-place finish at the Masters seemed like something to build on, but two months later Woods cratered. At the Memorial, where he has won five times, Tiger shot a third-round 85, the worst score of his professional career. His next appearance came at the U.S. Open, and he started with an 80. He missed the cut at Chambers Bay and then at the British Open and the PGA Championship. His season ended in August, as he failed to earn enough points to be one of the 125 players who qualified for the FedEx Cup.

In September, Woods had microdiscectomy surgery, the same procedure he’d undergone a year and a half earlier; this second operation was to correct a disk fragment that was pinching a nerve. But the discomfort remained, and last October he went under the knife again.

It is a testament to the cult of personality Woods created that despite years of poor play and bad health, there are still a lot of true believers out there; for these fans and players and reporters it remains disorienting to see the depth of Woods’s struggles, and ignoring reality is less painful than admitting his competitive mortality. “He’s still Tiger Woods, and he has an imprint to play great golf, and he will do it again,” says Howell. “If the guy were to get off his couch and show up at the Masters and win, I would not be surprised, because that’s who he is.”

Haney is a clear-eyed critic on many things about Woods, but even he feels a similar tug: “I would never say he can’t win again, because he’s so great. Every time he tees it up, I think he’s going to win. Still. I mean, he’s Tiger Woods. These other guys” — Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, et al. — “they’re good, but they’re not even close to what Tiger was.”

Yet Haney also recognizes this is a convenient time for Woods to call it quits. He writes in his book that Woods considered injuries to be “an athletic badge of honor. To him, injuries were a way of being accepted into the fraternity of superstars who played more physical sports than golf.” Says Haney, “If he walks away now, the narrative is that injuries cost him a chance to catch Jack. That sure sounds a lot better than he lost the desire or he threw it all away with reckless behavior in his personal life.”

So many things are working against a comeback, but the public fascination with Woods remains as intense as ever. In late February, during the week of the Honda, he posted on social media a clip of himself swinging a short iron very gingerly. The Internet practically melted. “It got more attention than anything happening here,” McDowell said from the Honda. “It’s a reminder of how big he was, and still is.”

Indeed, all of us were lucky to witness the greatest golf ever played. What happened? Even Woods might not be able to answer that. A better question might be, Why can’t we let go?

“He epitomizes a power in the universe that we don’t understand,” says Ogilvy. “He did stuff that science, common sense and golf history can’t explain. The guy was incredible in every way, but Ernie Els was just as good physically as he was, Greg Norman was just as good physically, Rory McIlroy is too. There are hundreds of guys who are, really, but why is Tiger the guy who won every time? How did he make every putt, how did he always pull off the shot? We don’t get how he did it, and we want to know why he lost it and where it’s gone and why he can’t get it back. Maybe even Tiger doesn’t know. I know we all want to see him do it one more time, to be reminded of how special it was. He certainly has nothing left to prove to anyone. It just feels like he deserves a different ending.”

Tiger Woods departure from his once-brilliant, earth-shattering greatest remains one of the most puzzling stories in the sports world. So we ask, 'What happened?'

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