ORLANDO, Fla. -- Earlier this week, using words that were virtually identical, a PGA Tour tournament director and a prominent player, separated by a thousand miles, sounded like they were singing in two-part harmony.
Give or take a word, the timbre, tone and sameness of their comments was striking.
|Tiger's indiscretions have put a negative light on the PGA Tour. (US Presswire)|
In case you missed the reference, this is the biggest story in the history of golf, the endlessly embarrassing episode regarding Tiger Woods and his sexual proclivities.
On Friday night, the reigning world No. 1, the butt of joke-writers around the globe and a man who has been excoriated by critics everywhere for his reckless and outrageous behavior, elected to step away from the game that made him the richest sports figure ever.
It was the smartest thing he has done in weeks -- and anybody associated with the game should be saying a silent prayer of thanks.
The thermonuclear winter that the Woods debacle has caused has seeped into every corner of the sport and had threatened to devour it whole. It was noxious, toxic and corrosive. When would Woods play? Where would he turn up? What would he say?
Sure, if he puts himself in park for six months, those issues must still be broached at a later date. But at least the stench will have mostly wafted past. The allegations have piled up so fast -- bedding multiple porn stars, the possibility of nude photos in circulation -- that Google's search engine hasn't stopped humming.
While the stomachs of those associated with the game haven't stopped turning.
How was the PGA Tour supposed to conduct tournaments when Woods was the over-riding, over-reaching subject, even when he wasn't playing that particular week? That's exactly what the tour faced in January when the 2010 season opens. At minimum, this buys the tour some respite from what would have been an endless crusade for more Woods-related player reaction.
No question, this is the best course for Woods and his family, or whatever semblance is left of it. But we're looking at this in a macro sense here. A couple of days ago, I pitched a story idea to the editors: I was going to strenuously suggest that PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem needed to suspend Woods for six months, either for conduct unbecoming a professional or, a La baseball, to preserve the integrity of the game. Woods saved everybody the trouble.
"We fully support Tiger's decision to step away from competitive golf to focus on his family," Finchem said in a statement Friday night.
Usually, I poke fun at Finchem for coming across as a starched shirt whose words must be vetted for truth and conviction with great care, but this time, I believe every word.
Simply put, Woods had dragged the tour and its players into the mud with him. The splatter and collateral damage had not yet been tallied, but it was palpable. Players were angry, like everybody else. Not that they had been misled or betrayed, a sentiment conveyed by many Woods fans, but because they had done nothing wrong and were being painted with the same broad brush.
That game of honor and integrity had been besmirched like at no other time in its 500-year history. It was a stain that no amount of Clorox could remove.
"He screwed all of us," a prominent player said earlier this week.
How, exactly, did he accomplish that? Guilt by association, for one. The possible loss of tournament sponsors, fans or pro-am players, wary of being associated with Woods as the incomprehensible details keep rolling out almost daily, for another. Tournaments had begun to examine whether it was wise to use Woods' image in their marketing campaigns in 2010.
Consider the astounding impact of those words. For years, everybody complained when Woods didn't play at their tournaments, and now he was becoming something of a marketing albatross, an offensive figure who polarized certain fans.
Imagine the circus sideshow that would have ensued had he returned in San Diego in six weeks, with TMZ, ET and a million paparazzi shooters lying in wait for him at the hotel and course. With women jangling their car keys and giving him the wolf's whistle along the gallery ropes. Other fans taunting him for behaving like a dog in heat.
Never mind. It's actually unimaginable.
This is something of a trial separation, time limit undetermined. Woods can sort through the wreckage of his personal life, get his hormones and priorities in proper order and put some distance between him and the game he had harmed with his behavior.
Don't get me wrong, this decision is going to leave a mark, especially over the short term. The TV networks are going to take a bath in the ratings, which will likely be half what they could have been had Woods been in the field. Fan interest will wane somewhat, as it did when he was out for half of 2008 while recovering from knee surgery. Ticket sales at tournament sites will suffer. Heck, golf readership at sports websites will drop.
Still, in this whole sordid ordeal, this might be the most selfless thing Woods has done.
Maybe there's hope for him yet.