(Updated: 9 p.m.) Tiger Woods’ career arc is not unlike other former great champions in sports, even if his has been more dramatic than most. He won titles. He set records. He reached a level of domination in golf that set the bar for others. Then injuries and age led to an erosion of his body and his game, and he became irrelevant against the sport’s new stars.
What will define Woods now is how he handles life outside of golf. What happened this holiday weekend wasn’t a good sign, either for today or the future. The 41-year-old was arrested early Monday morning near his home in Jupiter, Fla., on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office released a mug shot of a tired, disheveled Woods, looking nothing like the centerpiece of so many past Nike campaigns. There was only limited information about the arrest on the site, which indicated: Eldrick Tiger Woods had been booked Monday at 7:18 a.m. and released without bond at 10:50 a.m.
An arrest report was not immediately available but a Jupiter police spokeswoman told CNN that Woods had been arrested at about 3 a.m.
Woods released a statement Monday evening, saying that “alcohol was not involved.” He attributed the incident to prescription pain medication.
“I understand the severity of what I did and I take full responsibility for my actions,” Woods said. “I want the public to know that alcohol was not involved. What happened was an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications. I didn’t realize the mix of medications had affected me so strongly.
“I would like to apologize with all my heart to my family, friends and the fans. I expect more from myself too.”
DUI arrests never should be taken lightly. If somebody wants to train wreck their own life, that’s up to them. But driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs puts the lives and well-being of others at risk. If there is one positive about this incident, it’s that nobody was injured.
Whether anything else positive comes out of this is completely up to Woods.
His struggles have been on public display. The crash-and-burn of his marriage and personal life have been well-chronicled. He last won a PGA event in 2013 and his last of 14 majors in 2008. When he underwent fusion surgery April 19, it was his fourth back operation since 2014. Injuries have kept him out of the last two Masters, and three of the last four.
Former Georgia Tech pro Roberto Castro was asked recently what would happened first: His first major title or Woods’ 15th. Castro’s response: “Probably (me). (Woods) has a lot of physical issues to overcome. And even if he does, the level of play (on Tour) is so high. It’s really difficult to win a major.”
But Woods reaffirmed he has no plans to retire and provided a medical update on his condition May 24 on his website, writing: “It has been just over a month since I underwent fusion surgery on my back, and it is hard to express how much better I feel. It was instant nerve relief. I haven’t felt this good in years.
“The long-term prognosis is positive. … But, I want to say unequivocally, I want to play professional golf again.”
All of which is fine. But Woods’ rehab of his personal life should be a bigger priority for him than his physical being or his golf game, because one will not work without the other. He has never really been the same since undergoing knee surgery in 2008 after winning the U.S. Open. His personal life became tabloid fodder in 2009, with details of extramarital affairs that ultimately led to his divorce from wife Elin Nordegren.
Woods has attempted to reshape his image, wrote a book on the 20th anniversary of his 1997 Masters win, picking up sponsors, designed a new golf shoe with Nike and entered the world of golf course design.
But the mug shot of an unshaven, tired and morose looking Woods won’t play well in any marketing campaign. This needs to be the bottom for Woods, because the next step down is far worse.
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