Hiatus will help Tiger get past personal drama
By Scott Michaux| Columnist
Sunday, December 13, 2009

TIGRE, Argentina --- It was a fleeting hope that 5,000 miles might be far enough to escape the reach of this Tiger Woods story.

No such luck. Just six clicks of the remote control brought news of the Woods scandal in Spanish.

Caddies and members at the idyllic Jockey Club brought up the subject in broken English.

It was discussed at dinner with PGA Tour pros Scott Dunlap and Jay Delsing on the eve of the Argentine Open. It was a featured topic in a shared cab with international pros Carlos Franco and Ian Leggatt.

Even 87-year-old legend Roberto de Vicenzo raised the subject of the mess the world's No. 1 golfer has gotten himself into. A winner of 231 tournaments worldwide, de Vicenzo has been married to the same woman, Delia, for 64 years. He doesn't profess to being the perfect partner, but he swears by the importance of the partnership.

"I tell you, nobody -- I mean nobody -- can do nothing alone," de Vicenzo said Friday. "You have to have a good family and good friends. Everybody -- my wife, my children, my grandchildren -- everybody they work behind me to help me. You need somebody behind you."

De Vicenzo then reached for a glass of champagne and lifted it with a "Salud!"

The Argentine legend would toast Woods' decision to take an indefinite leave from golf to work on repairing the damage that recent revelations have done to his young family. It is the best decision Woods could have made for the sake of his career, the game and his family.

"I am deeply aware of the disappointment and hurt that my infidelity has caused to so many people, most of all my wife and children," Woods said in a statement on his Web site. "I want to say again to everyone that I am profoundly sorry and that I ask forgiveness. It may not be possible to repair the damage I've done, but I want to do my best to try."

This is an important step in Woods' life. Frankly, it is the only step he could possibly take. He needs to step away from the public scrutiny that playing golf brings before his scandal consumes everything else along with it and leaves him alone.

"I need to focus my attention on being a better husband, father, and person," he said.

You'll notice he said nothing about being a better golfer. That's been his career mantra for so long that he repeats it by rote. His quest to catch and surpass Jack Nicklaus as the all-time greatest major player has been a running theme for 12 years.

But it's background music now. It's trivial compared to the personal drama that has unfolded in the tabloids about sport's richest character.

Woods' open-ended hiatus has everyone wondering when he might return. Will he come back for the Masters Tournament? Will he skip the whole season? How long does it take to fix a broken marriage?

Not that it really matters in the scheme of things for Woods, but coming back for the Masters would be a grave public relations mistake. For all that it means to protecting his family, his image is also tied up in this decision. Skipping a couple of regular season events but returning for the Masters would be like those football coaches who suspend their delinquent stars for one quarter of a game only to make sure they get on the field when it really matters.

Beyond the substance of this leave of absence, the gesture would seem hollow if he resurfaced in time to pursue a grand slam. He makes a statement if you take that entire notion off the table by skipping the Masters and the Players and writing off at least half of the season. My bet would be he returns to the stage by June for the Memorial to tune up for the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. By then, maybe the worst of this will have passed and the game can move forward from the salacious details of his personal life.

Golf will certainly miss him, just as it did last year when he took eight months off after reconstructive knee surgery. But the game won't miss the circus that Woods' fall from grace has created.

Woods could quit today if he wanted and his place among the game's greats would be secure. But his mission would be incomplete.

And would that be the right message to send to his children -- that when the going gets tough, you quit? That's one thing Woods has never been accused of being.

The damage this ongoing scandal has inflicted on Woods' family is immeasurable. Especially on two young children who can't even comprehend the troubled situation their parents are in.

As a woman golfer and fan at the Argentine Open said this week, "it will be in Google forever. Every time you enter Tiger Woods' name it will be there. Can you imagine seeing that about your father?"

I couldn't imagine it. For all Woods' faults as a husband, you have to believe Woods wants to be the kind of nurturing and supportive father that Earl was to him.

As unsavory as all the hyperventilating tabloid coverage of this has been, this mess is of Woods' own creation. He has to deal with it now, even when it seems as if there is no place to escape

It will take time and energy beyond anything Woods has ever encountered before to pull his family behind him once again.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com

From the Sunday, December 13, 2009 edition of the Augusta Chronicle
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