December 1, 2009

HOUND HOUNDED:

Is This the End of Tiger Woods?: As we knew him, yes. Because before Friday's accident, we knew him only from outside a cocoon. Now the writer who peeled away its first public layer considers what the Escalade and the Enquirer hath wrought on the fate of America's most unlikely of punch lines. (Charles P. Pierce, 12/01/09, Esquire)

I can't say I'm surprised — either by the allegations or by what's ensued since Friday's wreck. Back in 1997, one of the worst-kept secrets on the PGA Tour was that Tiger was something of a hound. Everybody knew. Everybody had a story. Occasionally somebody saw it, but nobody wanted to talk about it, except in bar-room whispers late at night. Tiger's People at the International Management Group visibly got the vapors if you even implied anything about it. However, from that moment on, the marketing cocoon around him became almost impenetrable. The Tiger Woods that was constructed for corporate consumption was spotless and smooth, an edgeless brand easily peddled to sheikhs and shakers. The perfect marriage with the perfect kids slipped so easily into the narrative it seemed he'd been born married.

Anything dissonant was dealt with quickly and mercilessly. Tiger's caddy, an otherwise unemployable thug named Steve Williams, regularly harassed any spectator whom Williams thought might eventually harsh his man's mellow. The IMG handlers differed from Williams only in that they were slightly more polite. The golfing press became aware that stories about Tiger's temper, say, or about his ties to unsavory corporate grifters, would mean the end of access to the only golfer in the world who matters. There is a quick way to tell now which journalists have made this devil's bargain and which ones haven't — the ones insisting that this "accident" is somehow "not a story" are the sopranos in the chorus.

But the more impenetrable Tiger's cocoon was, the more fragile it became. It was increasingly vulnerable to anything that happened that was out of the control of the people who built and sustained it, and the events of last week certainly qualify. Now he's got one of those major Media Things on his hands, and there is nothing that he, nor IMG, nor the clinging sponsors, nor anyone else can do about it. He is going to be everyone's breakfast for the foreseeable future. (Among his many headaches, there is absolutely no way that the Enquirer quits on this story. See Edwards, John.) And he's going to be some kind of punch line for the most of the rest of his public career. There is some historical irony in all that, and not just for myself.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 1, 2009 3:57 PM
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