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Is the Tiger losing his cool?
There was a time when Tiger Woods was the epitome of cool. There was a time in his early supremacy in the game when one wondered if he had any emotions, such was his composure. It was wondrous to watch. Here was this young man who rode the vicissitudes of this notoriously fickle game with supreme self-control. Such was his talent and self-assurance that it was hard to imagine anyone coming close to challenging him. Beating him was certainly out of the question and every pro golfer on the world stage knew it and accepted it. In 2000, Woods was the Messiah, the panacea to all of pro golf's ills and for every parent with an unruly, unfocused child he was the long awaited perfect role model. Sadly, all of that has changed.

Some excuse can perhaps be made for Woods' serious decorum failure at the Masters this year. His emotions were clearly stretched with concern about his father's illness. Certainly, off the course and secure in the Butler Cabin resplendent in his green jacket, he switched back into his erudite, intelligent and composed mode, riding the inanity of the banal TV interview and presentation ceremony with his customary aplomb.

His on-course behaviour was somewhat different. It is one thing to express disappointment over a bad shot with a grimace or perhaps even a silently mouthed Anglo Saxon expletive or phrase. It is, however, another thing altogether to cavort outrageously over a stroke of good fortune - especially when you stand tied for the championship and your challenger has yet to hole out and stands waiting on the green for the conclusion of your celebrations. Woods' performance on the 16th green at Augusta was not only bad mannered and unbecoming of a great champion - it was also a serious loss of cool.

An amateur would surely not have escaped censure over such a performance for a man in a blazer with a badge would have had a severe word about it. Someone in authority would similarly have rebuked a pro golfer for bringing the game into disrepute. But Woods is long since above authority for, in the modern commercial world of pro golf he is simply bigger than the game and is entirely unrestrained. No one is above escaping the petulance of his displeasure. Butch Harmon has learned that to his cost and Nick Faldo, one of the greatest players of all time, has learned that Tiger is beyond criticism. Lowly tournament stewards and TV cameramen have felt the sting of his contempt and seasoned journalists at post-round press briefings have been cowed at his suggestions of their stupidity. Humble the Tiger is not, despite his self-effacing ways when the TV camera red light comes on.

Tiger Woods' performance on the 16th green at Augusta was simply the most recent and certainly the most over-the-top of celebratory excesses in golf. It was something unknown before American pros started running around greens and pumping fists on achievement. The Ryder Cup excesses have fuelled it but the fact that it has become commonplace does not make it excusable. It can be unfair, as it was in the situation with Di Marco, it is certainly unsportsmanlike and the participation of Woods' caddie in it has introduced an altogether new element.

Someone in authority should have addressed Steve Williams' participation in Woods' celebrations after he sank the eagle putt that annihilated Phil Mickelson at the Doral. Then, Williams charged across the green like a runaway Clydesdale horse to embrace his man. On the 16th green at Augusta, Williams stalked Woods' ball all the way into the hole. It was a brilliant, imaginative shot and, given the state of the leaderboard, a very exciting moment. But caddies are not supposed to impinge on their man's game. They are there to assist while remaining in the background. Dancing, hugging and kissing, albeit in celebration, becomes neither the man nor his caddie and the game is less for it. Surely this is the antithesis of cool and of every aspect of what has made Woods the most admired and celebrated figure in the game.

Tiger Woods carries an enormous responsibility, not only as the current custodian of the game standards as the leading light in it, but also as a role model for every youngster - as well as for a great many middle-aged fantasists. He has already made high-fives mandatory. Baseball caps and collarless-shirts he has made de rigour. Now hugging and dancing on the green with the caddie has been introduced into the repertoire. What comes next? I live in fear and trepidation.

For those given to hero-worship there is nothing more depressing than the discovery that your hero is a mere mortal after all. The realisation that the Tiger is entirely uncool is distressing.

©    19 - APRIL 2005

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