After Tiger Woods had his share of injury and scandal, the official word in the past year or so was that Tiger had found a new, better self -- less self-centered, friendlier, etcetera.
New controversy at The Players Championship provides more evidence that there is no "new Tiger."
First, some background: At the Masters, Woods infamously benefitted from a generous interpretation of a new rule in order to keep playing after a rules violation that for 100 years would have gotten him disqualified. Now I happen to think the interpretation of the new rule was correct, and that Woods should not have been disqualified. The problem was with Woods' response to his good fortune. Frankly, even if the Masters didn't disqualify him, I thought Woods himself should have withdrawn in order to avoid any "asterisk" on his record on the off chance he won the event and then later tied or beat Jack Nicklaus' career record for professional major titles. But here's the thing: Even if he didn't withdraw -- a defensible decision -- at the very least, Woods should have said something to acknowledge just how fortunate he had been and how grateful he was for the favorable ruling. He should have said or done something gracious to show he understood that the game is bigger than he is and that there is an ethic of sportsmanship above and beyond the letter of the law. Instead, though, Woods merely said something to the effect of "those are the rules; the rules let me keep playing; and everybody else can stuff it." Well, okay, he didn't say the last clause, but that was the tone of it.
All of which is prologue to what happened yesterday between Woods and Sergio Garcia, playing together as the two leaders of The Players. As Garcia was in the middle of his backswing in the middle of the second fairway, Woods pulled a wood, in the woods, as an indication he was going to try to hit a heroic shot out of trouble -- and the crowd reacted excitedly, throwing Garcia off his swing. Result: A horrendous shot that led to a bogey on a reasonably easy par 5.
Now let it be said that Garcia is infamous for complaining and even for making ridiculous excuses for his failures in the past. In this case, though, he didn't whine: When asked what happened, he said he had indeed been disturbed mid-swing by the Woods event with the crowd, but also said he didn't think Woods had deliberately bothered him.
Obviously, Woods was unaware when he pulled his club that Garcia was swinging then (although, frankly, even such unawareness is a sign of self-centeredness and lack of sportsmanship, because it is one's job to make sure one isn't making movements in the middle of a playing companion's swing), and he also could not know that the crowd would react as it did. But here's the key point: When made aware of what had happened, Woods did not apologize. Rather than making a point of going to Garcia and saying, "Hey, Sergio, I didn't know the crowd would do that; I'm sorry; it was an accident," Woods instead haughtily blamed a marshal.
“Obviously he doesn’t know all the facts,” Woods said after play was stopped for the day. “The marshals said he had already hit, so I pulled the club.”
In another interview a couple of minutes later outside the TPC clubhouse, Woods said, “I heard his comments. It’s not surprising he’s complaining about something.”
There are few words to describe Woods' reaction that are any less insulting than "jerk." Woods' actions and the crowd's reaction clearly bothered Garcia mid-swing. Yet here is Woods blaming a volunteer marshal and then criticizing Garcia for complaining. (Note: Garcia did not bring it up himself. He was questioned about it and tried to downplay it.)
So, by Tiger's logic, if you violate the well-understood ethic of the game, and it costs somebody else a stroke, not only is it their tough luck but also their fault for complaining about it.
Woods should have gone out of his way, after the round, when made aware of just how obviously disruptive his/his crowds' reactions were (as replays clearly showed), to express remorse. Look, everybody who plays golf sometimes loses track of one's playing companions at some point or another and moves or says something mid-swing. Fine. Every sentient person also knows that if he has done such a thing, he owes a profuse apology.
Not Tiger Woods. The world apparently exists for Tiger, and if the world doesn't like it, well... too bad.
Tiger Woods clearly is not the sort of man shom young people should admire. He's just an egocentric lout who happens to be really, really good at a game. But skill doesn't excuse loutishness.