Golf legend Woods slammed after driving arrest

Then and now: On Monday morning Woods was unable to stand on one leg, police said. © Getty

He is a racial icon. He was the world’s best golfer for over a decade. But now Tiger Woods could go to prison after the latest tribulations in his personal life. Is he a hero or a villain?

The date: Sunday April 13th 1997. The place: Augusta National, a golf course in Georgia which had admitted its first black member less than seven years earlier.

The tournament: the Masters, whose founder once said: “As long as I’m alive, golfers will be white and caddies will be black”.

A 21-year-old mixed race man was having none of it. Eldrick “Tiger” Woods not only won his first major tournament as a professional golfer. He won by 12 shots and set a series of records.

Sports Illustrated called it “the week everything changed in golf”.

Contrast that with this Monday. At 3:00am Woods was arrested near his home in Florida and charged with driving under the influence. As day broke a mugshot showing his unkempt face and heavy eyes was beamed around the world.

Yesterday police said Woods was asleep at the wheel of his car, which had stopped in the road with the engine running. Woods said he had suffered “an unexpected reaction to prescription medications”. But the news seemed to confirm how far he had fallen.

For 11 years he was the best golfer on the planet. Many considered him the best ever. Officials spoke of making courses longer and harder so they were “Tiger-proof”.

The name “Tiger” became instantly recognisable. “Woods was bigger than golf,” recalled John Cassidy in The New Yorker last month. “He became an international celebrity, a pitchman for corporate America and a role model.”

In 2008 he won his 14th major title with a torn knee ligament and a double stress fracture of the leg. The Telegraph’s Mark Reason called it “the single greatest sporting achievement of all time”.

But the following year it emerged that he had conducted a string of sordid affairs and paid major sums to cover them up. His public approval rating plummeted. Sponsors deserted him. His wife divorced him.

He took a break from golf. When he returned he suffered from injuries and poor form. Speculation mounted that he was drinking or taking painkillers excessively. He has not won a 15th major tournament.

Driver or Woods?

He remains a hero, say fans. He revolutionised golf and overcame the game’s powerful residual prejudice. His affairs were a personal matter. His decline on the course was an inevitable product of age. His latest mistake was to be careless, not malicious. He is not perfect, but the media-led assault on him is unjustified.

Not so, critics respond. His iconic status makes his behaviour much more damning. His selfish womanising revealed his sense of entitlement and moral vacuity. In recent years he has wasted his talent. Now his recklessness could have cost someone’s life. As a public figure he has failed to set a good example, and he deserves the criticism he gets.

You Decide

  1. Do you admire Tiger Woods?
  2. Is Woods a hero or a villain?

Activities

  1. Work in pairs. List five qualities each which you think a role model should have. Briefly explain each and then choose the most important one between you. Discuss your choices as a class.
  2. Research and write a 600-word profile of Tiger Woods which could be printed in a major newspaper.

Some People Say...

“We should not judge public figures on their personal lives.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Woods was arrested at a junction near his home in Florida early on Monday. He was asleep at the wheel of his Mercedes while the engine was running and it was in the road. Police say he had been “driving erratically”. When they woke him up, they say he had “extremely slow and slurred speech” and did not know where he was. He was charged with driving under the influence.
What do we not know?
What exactly caused Woods to be in this state. Yesterday several reports suggested he had passed a breathalyser test, meaning he was not drunk. He said he had a bad reaction to prescription medication, which he was taking as he was recovering from surgery. We also do not know what punishment he will face. Under Florida law, the most severe penalty would be up to six months in prison.

Word Watch

Founder
Clifford Roberts, who jointly formed the Augusta National course (where the Masters is played each year) in 1931.
Major
These are the four most important tournaments in the annual golfing calendar: the US Masters, the US Open, the Open Championship (in Britain) and the US PGA.
Records
He took 270 shots to finish the four rounds (giving him a score of 18 under par). This was the best score in Masters history. It remains the joint-best today. He also won by the biggest victory margin in Masters history. This was all the more remarkable as his first nine holes were lacklustre.
Monday
This had added poignancy as it was Memorial Day in the USA — a day set aside to remember those who died serving in the armed forces.
Medications
Woods is currently recovering from surgery on his back. Breathalyser results suggested he did not have alcohol in his blood.
14th
For many years Woods looked likely to break the record of 18, held by the legendary Jack Nicklaus.
Approval
According to USA Today and Gallup, 87% of Americans viewed Woods favourably in 2005 but only 33% did so in early 2010.