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Even with divorce final, Tiger can't escape ghosts at The Barclays

by | National Columnist

PARAMUS, N.J. -- This feels akin to the Al Pacino scene in the third Godfather flick, where the mafia don is complaining that he can't make a clean break from his awful, self-inflicted past.

If that movie moment doesn't sound familiar, Pacino was trying to go legit, but has so many darned skeletons in his mobster closet, he had to move some bones to his garage so he had space for his clothes. Given that the PGA Tour is in New Jersey this week, it feels particularly apt.

The timing of Tiger Woods' divorce and his ex-wife's interview don't make it easier for the No. 1 golfer at the FedEx opener. (AP)  
The timing of Tiger Woods' divorce and his ex-wife's interview don't make it easier for the No. 1 golfer at the FedEx opener. (AP)  
Every time I think I'm out, they drag me back in.

Just when it seemed the endless run of supermarket tabloid headlines had ended, two days after a court decreed the end of his dysfunctional marriage, Tiger Woods was dragged back into the mud pit Wednesday at The Barclays, the opener of the tour's FedEx series.

We're not talking about the puddle of rainwater a few feet in front of him as he faced the New York media firing squad on Wednesday, either. As he played the pro-am shortly before 8 a.m., one of his representatives got a phone call and ducked under the ropes. An editor from People magazine was appearing on the Today Show, discussing in great detail the forthcoming tell-all from Elin Nordegren, Woods' newly emancipated ex-wife.

Yeah, the Woodses put the Ex in Fed Ex. For Tiger, it might be short for excrement.

Finally at a point where all the water had seemingly washed under his burning bridge, the divorce that was finalized Monday in Panama City was mere prelude to his wife's first utterances on their doomed relationship. The interview hits newsstands Friday. It hit Woods on Wednesday. So much for some semblance of closure to the episodic meltdown of the world's No. 1 player.

Woods, who told reporters that the divorce has been weighing on him all season and greatly affecting his play, found no sense of relief when it became final on Monday.

"I don't think that's the word," he said. "I think it's just more sadness. Because I don't think you ever ... you don't ever go into a marriage looking to get divorced. That's the thing, that's why it's sad."

Sad and sordid, and the People story served as a reminder of both. Their interpersonal cadaver was disinterred by Elin for all to sniff one more time, right when we thought some sort of finality had been achieved. At some point, we'll be talking about golf in this space. When, or for how long, nobody knows.

After finishing his pro-am round at Ridgewood Country Club, Woods staged a press confab that, at his insistence, was held outdoors near the clubhouse. It's been raining in New Jersey for several days and a steady drizzle continued to fall all morning. Just as well, because after his wife semi-rehashed the low points of their marriage, we all needed another shower, anyway.

More on Woods
The Barclays

Of the Nordegren magazine excerpts made public Wednesday, the one that carried the heaviest weight was this quote: "I'm so embarrassed that I never suspected -- not a one. For the past 3½ years, when all this was going on, I was home a lot more with pregnancies, then the children and my school."

Yep, while his wife was home, pregnant with children who took months for the couple to conceive, Woods was chasing a parade of waitresses and hostesses all over the planet. He even brought a few of them home when Elin wasn't around. Many of the revelations from the past nine months came flooding back.

In some quarters, Nordegren is going to get shelled by the Neanderthals for piling on, well after the fact. But she said she conducted the interview as a one-off defense of her position after standing mute through the entire episode. She needed to clear the air on a few important points.

She never hit him during the Thanksgiving crash episode, she said. Moreover, she had no idea her husband had the adulterous habits of an alley cat. Fair enough. She had her day in divorce court Monday, and now will plead her case in a painfully public forum when the magazine is published.

The timing of the story feels odd. Surely, for some who had begun to feel some pangs of sympathy for Woods over his free-fall predicament -- myself included, to some degree -- the interview certainly put the train back on the rails. His personal and professional lives are in utter disarray, and it has been surreal to watch it unravel, like when statues of icons are toppled during political coups. He has been humiliated in the public square, if not de-pantsed.

Wednesday morning, a few hours before the forthcoming Nordegren revelations were known, the New York Post printed a story headlined, "Here, Pussycat: Players don't fear the tamed Tiger." He's declawed and toothless, trying to make the cut and advance to the second round of the FedEx chase next week in Boston, an event that is hosted by his charitable foundation.

The People interview served to remind just how toxic his double life had become. With the tabloid media on hand and peppering him for a confessional, sharpening their cutlery, Woods fell on his own sword, which was probably a prudent move.

"My actions certainly led us to this decision," he said. "And I've certainly made a lot of errors in my life and that's something I'm going to have to live with."

Woods indicated that the dissolution of the six-year marriage was tougher for him to stomach than many might think. Given that some don't think he has a conscience at all, that might not be saying much.

"Because being asked questions all the time, even as the tournaments are going, I've been asked questions while we're playing," he said. "And that's always difficult. Especially when I'm trying to work on a few things, trying to find shots in order to get around the golf course, and to have to talk about other things."

Even when Woods tosses around blunt answers, it's hard to engender much empathy. He brought it all on himself and nobody can mop up the residue for him. For corporate America, the People story can't be especially attractive. After reportedly agreeing to a divorce settlement of $100 million, Woods has become a leper as a product pitchman all over again.

As Woods struggled to describe his reaction when the divorce was finalized, after reading the interview and watching Woods squirm under the microscope, finding the proper term to describe the emotion of the moment was dicey.

Sympathy didn't cut it. It was more like a detached sense of pity.

Unlike the details that precipitated the biggest fall from grace in sports history, ones that will be rehashed again this week, the following actually bears repeating: Tiger Woods had it all. And it still wasn't enough.

If you had forgotten, it's back on the front page for everyone to digest.


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