Woods is franchise to watch in 2010
By Scott Michaux| Columnist
Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It was the year of the franchise.

Heavyweights pretty much dominated the scene at every turn in 2009.

The New York Yankees won their 27th World Series.

The Los Angeles Lakers claimed their 15th NBA title.

The Pittsburgh Steelers rallied for their sixth Super Bowl triumph.

(The 23-time champ Montreal Canadiens clearly didn't get the memo as the Pittsburgh Penguins nicked the Detroit Red Wings for their third Stanley Cup instead.)

North Carolina flexed its Atlantic Coast Conference muscle in the NCAA Final Four while Florida won its second BCS title in two years before passing the baton to Southeastern Conference rival Alabama, which aims for its record 13th national title next week.

Franchise players stole the stage as well. Jimmie Johnson raced to a record fourth consecutive NASCAR title. Roger Federer made the finals of every Grand Slam, completed his career set at the French Open and won his record 15th major at Wimbledon.

Heck, even Lance Armstrong unretired and helped push an ungrateful teammate to a victory in the Tour de France.

All in all you would have to say that 2009 ranked right up there with the best of years in marquee value.

But no franchise had quite the year like golf's Tiger Woods. It was an unforgettable 2009 for the world's most recognizable and richest athlete, no matter how much he might wish he could forget it.

Woods opened the year as a speaker on the world stage during the historic inauguration ceremonies for President Obama. Ten months later he disappeared in shame from a series of scandalous tabloid revelations about his sordid private life.

After a superlative season in which Woods returned from reconstructive knee surgery to win seven times, take the FedEx Cup and sweep Player of the Year and Athlete of the Decade honors, everything came crashing down on the world No. 1 in epic fashion.

Ever since the morning of Nov. 27, when Woods was unable to drive his SUV past the women's tees from the end of his driveway, he has been exposed to the world as a major-caliber lout. The golfing icon has been reduced to a punch-line as his extramarital affairs left him splayed across the tabloids and drove him into seclusion.

While his reportedly battered face hasn't been seen in over a month, Woods was forced to apologize in a statement about his infidelities and take an indefinite leave from the game he's dominated for the past 13 years. Not only is his marriage and selling power at stake, but his quest to catch Jack Nicklaus as the ultimate major champion no longer seems like a sure thing.

This is the franchise story that has transcended all others. There has been no shortage of debate on what it all means to Woods' legacy, his future and to the game. It's been rather comical reading all of the speculative analysis from every corner.

The one element of the story that puzzles me the most is this idea that Woods sold us a bag of goods -- that he represented himself as some kind of model human being and failed to live up to the role.

Maybe I missed something, but the Woods I've covered for the past 13 years never tried to present himself as anything more than the greatest golfer in the world. Not once has he ever embraced his father's fanciful boast that Tiger would "do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity." Even he rolled his eyes at that and settled for establishing a very nice charitable foundation and learning center.

But this notion that Woods held himself up as some sort of perfect human specimen is ludicrous. Show me a single one of those Accenture, Gillette, Buick, Nike or Tag Heuer ads that includes his wife or children. Name one time that he ever volunteered any private-life insight other than the cliched responses to oft-repeated questions that were lifted from the boiler plate that any one of us would use regardless of our own marital or parental discord/bliss.

Woods never flaunted his family life in the way that Phil Mickelson does. That's no besmirch on Mickelson. That's simply who Mickelson is. His professional and private lives are intertwined like nobody else's.

Tiger has never tried to be like Phil. He's never apologized for his salty outbursts. He's never held his family up as the model. He's never tried to be Gandhi.

Woods' single-minded public focus has been to be nothing more than the greatest golfer who ever lived. And in that mission he has yet to fail.

In some weird way, when he digs himself out from under all the embarrassment he's caused himself and his family, Woods might be relieved when he returns to his lifelong quest on the golf course. Now that all that pressure to live up to his father's declaration of being the "Chosen One" who can "impact nations" is exposed as the hooey it always was, the golfer can concentrate on the one thing that truly defines him.

Does it really matter what kind of person our most gifted athletes are? Babe Ruth was no saint. Michael Jordan's moral compass never pointed to true north.

Their gift is their skill. That's it. Charles Barkley was right. The public needs to stop looking at athletes as role models. Admire them for their talents alone and you won't get burned.

So in this year of the franchise, the Tiger Woods brand still stands out.

His approval rating has plummeted and he might hear a few boos when he reemerges from hiding, but what made Tiger "great" remains intact until proven otherwise.

Without winning a major in 2009, Woods' quest to catch Nicklaus actually got more interesting than ever -- whether you like him or not.

He is the franchise we'll pay attention to most in 2010.

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

From the Wednesday, December 30, 2009 edition of the Augusta Chronicle
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