In 2009, bad things started happening in Tiger Woods’s life, many of them of his own doing. They weren’t unspeakably bad things per se (at least as far as we know), but they were bad things that everyday people do — marital infidelities and sexting and prescription drug abuse, mainly — taken to the unchecked extremes afforded by celebrity and wealth, and blown up into scandals for those very same reasons (the strand of subtle racism that still runs through sports media
probably didn’t help, either). The details are a little unpleasant, but not that important beyond that there were lots of these stories. And for one reason or another, they ended up correlating with a run of injuries, swing coach changes, and a distinct lack of major championship victories, resulting in approximately 162,000 search results when you google “tiger woods” + “fall from grace.”
During the 2000s and early 2010s, the media viewed high-achieving celebrities as strictly moral figures. If they were good at what they did, it was because they were good people. If their bad actions had entered the public eye and they were suddenly failing at the thing that was their job, then their failures took on the quality of divine retribution. Of course, plenty of celebrities act monstrously in private while continuing to win and/or producing high-quality work in public, while genuinely decent famous people get in professional slumps for reasons that have nothing to do with their private behavior, because that’s how the real world works. Regardless, Tiger apologized publicly
, and eventually enough time passed without public Tiger-related drama that his string of injuries and lack of victories stopped seeming like a punishment for his personal shortcomings, and his determination to keep playing despite those injuries and lack of victories began to be seen as a sign that he had reached the “appropriately chastened” stage of his arc.
Then, Tiger got good. Again. He came in second at the 2018 PGA Championship, and the next April, he won the Masters — thanks not to the unmatchable talent he possessed in his youth, but, well, the wisdom and perspective that comes with age and experience. I had written a piece criticizing Tiger a couple months prior to the 2019 win, and even though I was kind of annoyed with him for reasons that made sense at the time but seem silly in retrospect, I teared up as I watched his final round and everyone watching realized he was going to win. Watching Tiger Woods win the Masters over and over again was a big part of my — and every other millennial golf fan’s — golf-watching childhood. Narratives are bullshit, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be real, too.
So, back to the car crash. It was a bad one. The pictures are terrifying. The injuries to his lower right leg are serious, but not life-threatening. Even still, he is lucky to be alive at all. The question of whether Woods will ever play golf competitively again is on the surface a valid one, but ultimately, it’s pretty pointless. Ever since Woods started experiencing serious back problems, which have required multiple surgeries, his future as a competitive golfer has always been up in the air.
Woods knows this. In the days before the crash, he said on live TV
that he wasn’t sure whether he was going to play the Masters in April because he’s “got only one back.” Now in his mid-40s, Woods picks his battles, only playing in select tournaments and not hesitating to pull out of whatever event, whenever, if short-term competition might risk his long-term future. In the events he does
play in, it’s rare that he pushes the gas pedal all the way down like he once did, favoring a soft fade off the tee rather than bombing it a billion yards every chance he gets.
Once his injuries from the car accident heal, Woods will probably take months or even a year to fully recover, after which I assume he’ll keep doing some variation of what he’s already been doing — picking and choosing his spots, forcing nothing. If there ever came a time where he, for whatever reason, felt that he needed to ride in a golf cart during competition, I have no doubt that the PGA would amend its rules so that he could do that. They’ll figure it out. He’s Tiger Woods.
This is a pretty boring conclusion from a narrative perspective, which is probably why there are a lot of articles out there right now asking whether or not Tiger will play again, whether he was asleep at the wheel when he crashed, whether there was anything special about the Genesis SUV he was driving that saved his life or if this is just the way all cars are now. There have been timelines of his personal life, timelines of his injuries, articles containing paragraphs containing information
about his 2017 DUI charge for falling asleep on the side of the road with pain pills in his system.
The problem with all of this is not that it’s unfair to Tiger Woods (although to be clear, it definitely is). It’s just that with rare exception, everything coming out about him right now is low-quality information, its value contingent less upon its provenance or even relevance to the current situation than how likely it is to get someone to read more articles about Tiger Woods. I’ve definitely fallen for it over the past week, at least once a day, which is how I learned that USA Today interviewed a car-crash expert about what might have caused the accident
, that Woods’s ex-wife has a new mansion
, and that the accident has catapulted the relatively unknown car brand Genesis “in the spotlight.”
(We have the ever-vigilant New York Post
to thank for those last two.)
All of this non-information keeps the Tiger discourse churning, and churn it will as updates beget second-day stories which beget opinion pieces which beget media criticism like what I’m writing right now. At some point, something either really great or medium-level terrible will happen with enough magnitude that the Tiger story is forcibly jettisoned from the news cycle, or maybe enough time will pass that the clicks stop coming and news outlets move on to other things. Then, in 12 months or so, someone will catch Tiger Woods playing a practice round with Rory McIlroy or whoever in Florida, and it will all start happening again.