Just when Tiger Woods thought it was safe to go back in the water, the sharks are circling once more. As he prepares to head up Magnolia Lane, a joint favourite to win his fifth Masters in only his sixth full tournament since returning from back surgery, an exhaustive biography has not so much cut him open as gutted him, filleted him and fried him in oil.
The 512-page Tiger Woods, by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian, is presently doing for Woods what Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury did for Donald Trump’s White House. It is also eliciting a similar sequence of reactions. Upon its publication this week, there was much praise for its copious research, for the fact that its 250-plus interviews brought freshness to one of the most thoroughly ploughed furrows in American life.
Then, though, came the blowback, as Mark Steinberg and Glenn Greenspan, Woods’ representatives, contended that the account was “littered with egregious errors,” not least in its recounting of a round with Bill Clinton, where their man has been depicted as sullen and mean-spirited. The authors deny the accusation, although official censure is hardly likely to dent their sales.
Of this tome, two things are certain: that it will stir chatter far beyond the sports realm before Woods mounts the first tee at Augusta, and that it will, in the final analysis, shift public opinion about him not one iota.
Many of the revelations are as unflattering as Woods could possibly have feared. That he has long been a parsimonious tipper, not to mention somewhere between cavalier and callous in his dealings with women, is well-known. But this book spares no detail about areas of his past that he has worked strenuously to protect — not least his relationship with Anthony Galea, the Canadian doctor who was arrested in 2009 for smuggling human growth hormone into the United States. A quoted source alleges that, after Woods’ 2008 knee operation, Galea used performance-enhancing drugs to aid recovery, without the golfer’s knowledge. Another physician, Mark Lindsay, authorised by Woods to speak on the record, disputes the charge.
Lashings of Woods’ narcissism pervade the narrative. Growing up with the conviction, instilled by his parents, that he would be a champion, he is portrayed as a young man whose vocabulary “was devoid of even the most basic civilities.” Such courtesy proved hard for him to acquire even in later life: in 1998, the writers claim, Peggy Lewis, who owned the Florida house that he was renting, extended her hand in excited greeting, only for Woods to blank her.
The harshest characterisation of all is reserved for Woods’ father, Earl.
The Earl of popular imagination is an ambitious but avuncular figure, a Vietnam veteran who schooled the prodigal son with tough love and whose passing in 2006 left Woods in torrents of tears on the 18th green at Hoylake. But in this book, he becomes a sordid old man, living out his days in loneliness and lechery. “Pornography played steadily on the television,” in the words of one passage. “Sex toys were stuffed in drawers, and sexual favours were performed at Earl’s request. ‘It was a house of horrors,’ recalled a former employee.”
It is impossible to dismiss the book as simply a prurient hatchet-job. For a start, the authors’ journalistic credentials are impeccable: Benedict is a Sports Illustrated luminary with 16 books to his name, while Keteyian is a highly regarded investigative reporter for CBS. Both stand at a remove from the Woods fervour on the regular tour, insisting they have no torch to carry or axe to grind. Instead, they argue that their aim all along was to flesh out the most detailed answer yet to the question: “Who is Tiger Woods?”
And yet the wider appetite for dissecting Woods, for picking at every piece of the carcass like starving hyenas, has diminished. The record TV ratings, the social- media frenzy and the millions being wagered at Las Vegas betting parlours all illustrate as much. In 2010, when Woods returned to Augusta after the exposure of his philandering, he was taunted, finding himself greeted by a light aircraft trailing the banner: “Sex addict? Yeah, me too.”
In 2018, the stock of goodwill has not just been replenished, but filled to the brim. The restless hope is that, within the chaotic sweep of Woods’ tale, there can be the most stirring of epilogues.
A vignette in the book reminds us Woods’ presence at the Masters remains so powerful. When he won in 1997, all that most remember is his red sweater and his fist-pump to the sky. But as he surveyed the scene at his presentation, he became aware of the “abundance of black people from the Augusta staff who had left their posts and assembled on the lawn and the veranda on the second floor.”
Woods retains that rarest of gifts for freezing moments in time. Of course, he also comes with the deepest of human flaws. Few, however, have ever had such faults more mortifyingly unmasked in the public glare. Just 10 months ago, his face looked wretchedly out of a police mugshot, after his arrest for driving under the influence of prescription painkillers. Today, he glows with optimism once more.
For all that the latest opus might have dredged up more dirt from his sometimes tawdry past, Woods is one case where mud, in the long term at least, does not stick.