Tiger Woods and his defining decade: The amazing story of the majors and the mistresses

So, where did Tiger Woods spend his 34th birthday on Wednesday? In rehab getting treatment for his various addictions? In Phoenix recovering from plastic surgery to repair his damaged face? In South Florida with one of his floozies? On his yacht Privacy, watching cartoons all day?

Nothing fills a news vacuum like rumour and gossip and, in the absence of any substantiated fact, scabrous internet hounds have been filing stories ranging from the mildly plausible to the downright malicious.

Even America’s most celebrated sportswriter was duped into believing a viral email claiming that, on that momentous Thanksgiving evening, Tiger’s wife Elin smashed his face in with a nine iron.

Tiger Woods

Unforgettable: Tiger Woods punches the air after winning the 2008 US Open despite injury

The only thing we can say with certainty is that Woods’s spectacular downfall is an appropriate end to the most tumultuous decade any sportsman has lived through since Muhammad Ali went from hero to zero in the Sixties.

The difference, of course, is that Ali became alienated because he said no (to the authorities over serving in Vietnam).

Woods is currently a pariah because every time he went to Vegas he said yes.

Woods opened up the decade with the greatest feat in golf history, the winning of four successive majors. He ends it having torn down all the painstakingly built walls of respect.

The episodes in between were not exactly slow-paced, either. He won and seemingly lost his beautiful wife, Elin. He had two children and lost his father, Earl.

He had ringside seats at the best that every other sport can offer and moved in such rarified circles he spoke at US President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

On the course he won the most meaningful Masters of the decade, the most spectacular US Open, the most moving Open and the most exciting US PGA.

After nine years and 11 months of unparalleled success, he looked down on the multitudes gathered in Australia, and an audience so rapt local journalists went back to The Beatles for the last occasion to inspire such adulation.

Tiger Woods

Joy and pain: Woods is consoled by wife Elin after his 2006 Open win

It was the perfect bookend to the perfect decade, or so we thought until his private plane touched down in Florida and his private life became front page news.

Thus began a chain of events without precedent, an eclipse so total he has spent the last month of a decade that belonged to him in hiding.

Even now it seems surreal. Who could have conceived that a leading blue chip company like Accenture Consulting would look at Tiger and say: ‘He is not the right representative for our advertising’?

Who would have thought he would be involved in behaviour so scandalous it has wiped billions off the share price of the companies who have stood by him?

Nobody is ever surprised when leading athletes are caught with their trousers down. But who would have imagined Tiger would spend quite so long with them round his ankles?

Tiger Woods

Emotion: Tiger Woods sheds tears after winning the Masters in 2005

For the vast majority of the decade, Woods rewrote the record books. For the last month he rewrote the thesaurus. After all, words like water hydrant and transgressions
carry entirely different meanings following that ill-fated crash on that ill-fated night.

So skewed is his normally manicured universe there must be a distinct threat to his life-long dream of overtaking Jack Nicklaus’s total of 18 major championships (he is currently on 14).

Assuming he chooses to return to the game following his ‘indefinite’ break, Woods will have to answer questions delving deep into the unknown.

What is going to happen to his fabled powers of concentration if the much-wronged Elin goes back to Sweden with the two kids? Has he got a problem with prescription drugs, as a Florida Highway Patrol man appeared to intimate on the night of the crash? Is he a sex addict?

The game itself places so many demands on the brain the last thing any player needs is to add to them with a bagful of dirty laundry.

Ten years ago, of course, it was all so different. He had just ended a two-year drought in the majors with a victory in the final Grand Slam of the decade.

With difficult swing changes bedded in, he embarked on a summer so golden you would have a hard time convincing eye witnesses there has ever been anything of the like.

Golf does not get any better than a US Open at Pebble Beach and an Open at St Andrews in the same summer and this was the year when the stars were truly aligned, with Woods winning the former by 15 shots and the latter by eight.

At the US PGA he showed he could win by a neck as well, holding off the unheralded American Bob May in a play-off to emulate Ben Hogan as the only player to win three majors in a row.

Eight months later, when Tiger duly kept David Duval and Phil Mickelson at bay at Augusta, we were beginning to wonder whether he would ever lose again. All over America, columnists compared him to Ali and Joe DiMaggio and debated his feat: was it the greatest achievement in sport?

Life away from the game was following a true course as well. His long-time girlfriend, Joanne Jagoda, had been replaced by someone even more blonde and striking.

Tiger Woods

Stunning: Woods finished 15 strokes ahead of the field in the US Open in 2000

‘He’s perfect for you,’ Jesper Parnevik told his nanny Elin Nordegren, daughter of a Swedish politician. ‘He’s very handsome, very good at golf and a really nice bloke.

Only in the spring of 2006 did the American dream decade skip a beat. Tiger’s father and mentor Earl Woods lost a long battle with ill-health and for a while he was clearly bereft.

Tiger Woods' decade

For a few weeks he opened up and gave a glimpse into the man behind the majors. He told stories about growing up. We leaned in sympathetically as he told us how hard it was living without the man who had been his constant companion through every stage of his development.

All too soon, alas, the shutters went back up. By the summer, Tiger’s powers on the course had been restored. He won The Open at Hoylake and cried openly from the moment the winning putt hit the back of the hole.

A month later he won the US PGA. So it continued. Reverence turned to deification after winning last year’s US Open, now widely regarded as the finest of all time, where he outlasted fellow American Rocco Mediate after an enthralling contest stretched out to 91 holes.

It was Woods’s first tournament after two months off with a knee injury and when it was over we learned just how troublesome.

Far from rest proving a cure, Woods announced he would be taking the rest of the year off to have surgery on a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Not only that, he also had a hairline fracture of his tibia. No wonder it has gone down as the tournament he won on one leg.

For anyone else, this comeback season, featuring seven victories and a couple of near misses in majors, would have represented a decent career.

But, amid the flashes of brilliance there were cracks in that hitherto impervious psyche, troubling glimpses of mortality that seem revealing in the light of what we know now.

Tiger Woods

Simply the very best: Woods celebrates at the home of golf St Andrews after winning The Open in 2005

With hindsight, it is simply too much of a coincidence to see his distracted mien at the US PGA as anything other than a man with too much on his mind.

The more frequent bouts of bad temper were widely written off as the frustrations of not winning a major. But different interpretations can be applied now we know he was fearing at any minute the whistle might be blown.

Whispers about marital problems began in July, so when the National Enquirer ran a story alleging he was having an affair, nobody immediately assumed it was idle gossip.

Then came the water hydrant, a gushing series of mistresses and the biggest crisis imaginable for a sportsman who made much of his $1billion empire on the premise of being a clean-cut family man.

Now the decade is ending with him incommunicado. It is no longer Ali and DiMaggio he is being compared to, but Hollywood’s most famous recluse, Howard Hughes.

Tiger Woods

Crash: Tiger Woods' car was seriously damaged after the golf superstar crashed it in Florida last month

Thirty-one days since he was last seen and counting. Where is he? My best guess would be rehab, putting the first blocks in place towards his comeback.

What will we remember most about Woods and the past 10 years? Will it be that he established himself as one of the 10 most vital sportsmen of all time - debate the rest by all means, but you will always find room for Tiger - or that he fell further than anyone
else? The majors or the mistresses?

The polish or the spit? Perhaps we should take a step back from being judge and jury and be prepared to see what time’s passing brings.

For imagine a scenario another 10 years from now, with Woods at the end of his career. He is either reconciled with Elin or has met someone else.

He has reformed and laid another six majors on the table to make it 20 in all. Should that come to pass, are we really going to dwell on this last month of mayhem?

Whatever lies ahead, of one thing we can be sure: this will be the decade people concentrate on when they talk about Woods.

This was the decade that really did have everything.

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