We ask what it is about the 14-time major winner that divides people.
There’s a quote attributed to the deceased American author Philip Jose Farmer which reads: “This story is about love, which means it is also about hate.” It may as well be the tagline to the inevitable Tiger Woods movie.
Put simply, golf has no other character like Woods. The great writers of our time couldn’t have conjured him and the most accomplished psychologists might lose their own mind deciphering why he generates such split opinion.
It’s possible to read a comments section below an article about him and see both gushing prose about his vintage years and a vehement dislike.
You’ve seen the comments: “Tiger’s back”, “Tiger’s finished”, “Tiger’s in limbo.” There’s only one thing that Tiger Woods definitely is and that’s in our heads.
Let’s begin by acknowledging the love.
A staggering 14 majors will do the trick. Most purists love the greats and Woods is certainly one of those. Just look at the following he had at the recent Wyndham Championship and the reaction to his opening birdie, made with a gorgeous flop shot. Did you spot the two adults high fiving each other afterwards? Nobody loves flop shots that much. You can be sure it was for Woods.
You can also be certain that someone, somewhere, was waiting, even hoping, for a re-emergence of his chipping disaster in Phoenix from earlier this year. But the question is why?
Why does Tiger Woods split opinion like no other?
No-one knows with absolute conviction. Not me, not Woods himself, not Jack Nicklaus, not even those aforementioned psychologists. Ask Siri and you’ll have finally found something not even “she” knows the answer to.
We can, of course, speculate. Social media, television and the overall proliferation of news means stories that would have stayed hidden 100 years ago emerge. And, boy, do they emerge with vigour.
Woods’ personal issues have become a club with which to beat him with by people who, rightly or wrongly, can’t separate the golfer from the man. This article is not, by the way, an attempt to tell anyone how they should feel about Woods
One of the more simple explanations is that his success was so overwhelming that it makes for a better, and ultimately more interesting, story that his name is no longer feared. We love an underdog until he is no longer battling the odds. When athletes rise to a certain level, some think their downfall should be swift.
Others believe he’s simply not a relevant part of golf’s current narrative anymore and choose to cast him aside. Brief sparks of the Woods of old at the Masters and the Wyndham Championship raised hopes rather than expectation. His finishes of T17 and T10 were respectable, but yet more proof for some that his ruthlessness has all but gone.
Perhaps this dislike even comes from the realisation that Woods isn’t the unshakeable, immovable hero he once seemed. Kids aren’t interested or even necessarily aware of what athletes do in their personal lives; they just know that on the course or the pitch they’re who they aspire to be.
Maybe it’s the child inside that feels let down. Peeking behind the curtain to find that the superhero costume can’t fit a human being all the time is one of sport’s inevitabilities.