By Tom Leonard, for the Daily Mail
Within six minutes of his winning putt at the U.S. Masters, the sports clothing giant Nike had put out an advert celebrating Tiger Woods.
The chant of ‘Tiger! Tiger!’ from fans lining the green in Augusta, Georgia, was soon drowned out by the ringing of cash tills as delighted sponsors and golf industry bosses gleefully totted up their future earnings.
The pedestrian world of professional golf was once more ‘The Tiger Woods Show’ — far more exciting to advertisers, audiences and potential players.
Woods, who became the world’s first billion-dollar sportsman in 2009, made a fortune for himself and so many others.
Tiger feat: Woods and son Charlie, in matching Nike gear, celebrate his astonishing Masters win
Nike — which has sponsored Woods for 23 years — was estimated to have earned $22.5 million (£17.2 million) simply from its association with his victory on Sunday.
Its ‘swoosh’ logo was plastered not only over Woods — on his hat, shirt, trousers and shoes — but over his son, Charlie, who was dutifully wearing a Nike T-shirt and cap.
Charlie, ten, was beside the green with his sister Sam, 11, and grandmother Kultida, plus the golfer’s girlfriend Erica Herman, to hug Woods as the cameras swarmed around.
Amid the euphoria, it was seemingly forgotten that the last time Woods draped himself in his family, portraying himself as a devoted young dad and husband a decade ago, it turned out to be a gigantic fraud.
His personal life and career imploded in 2009 after it emerged that he had been cheating on his beautiful Swedish wife Elin Nordegren, the mother of his children, with a tawdry army of strippers, porn stars and nightclub hostesses.
Pictured: Police mugshot from 2017
The man hailed by some as the greatest athlete of the modern era sank as spectacularly as he had risen, his failings compounded by a later arrest for ‘driving under the influence’. Until Sunday, he hadn’t had a major victory since 2008.
Last year, a searing and exhaustively researched biography twisted the knife, painting Woods as one of the most odious men in sporting history — an entitled, arrogant egotist who treated almost everyone like dirt.
But Americans love a winner — particularly one who pulls off as spectacular a comeback as Woods. And the U.S. media did its best to accentuate the positive about him, breathlessly talking up the 43-year-old’s chances of beating Jack Nicklaus’s record 18 major competition victories and the incredible power of ‘redemption’.
His ugly past, if mentioned at all, was coyly skated over as ‘personal woes’ and ‘a painful period of his life’ for the ‘prodigal son’. Nike couldn’t have put the forgiving mood better than it did in a particularly cynical marketing slogan it dreamt up for Woods in an earlier comeback attempt — ‘Winning Takes Care of Everything’. It does seem to have done that — supporters believe that if he continues to play like this, he could make another billion dollars.
Yet the rekindled love affair with Woods isn’t entirely altruistic. Much of the golf world has been rooting for a comeback. Although he’s balding now under that Nike cap, as a young, attractive and mesmerising player, he single-handedly transformed the sport’s unathletic image and boosted its fortunes.
When Woods is on the leaderboard, interest in golf, attendance at tournaments and television viewing figures rocket.
Nike set a new record for sporting sponsorship when it gave Woods a five-year, $105 million contract in 2000. Sticking by him as other sponsors pulled out, it signed a new deal in 2013 for $200 million.
The U.S. company has an inglorious track record for standing by disgraced sportsmen, including the U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin who was caught using illegal performance-enhancing drugs, and an American football star who was found to be running a dog-fighting ring.
Nike was being congratulated in the sports and marketing worlds yesterday.
The company’s latest advert, a montage of old footage of the golfing boy wonder playing as a child and an adult, claims: ‘It’s crazy to think a 43-year-old who has experienced every high and every low and has just won his 15th major is chasing the same dream as a three-year-old.’
Tiger Woods pictured with girlfriend Erica Herman last year
Some might say it’s one thing to acknowledge a remarkable sporting return to form, quite another to hold up Woods as a hero.
Much has changed in his life but Woods doesn’t appear to have gained a great deal more humility.
He revealed that after his latest victory he told his children he hoped they were proud of how he fought. And he certainly sounded his old smug self when he put on the victor’s green jacket for a fifth time and remarked: ‘It fits.’
There was a time when it looked as if the last golf club associated with Woods would be the one wielded by his furious wife when she was chasing his car one night in 2009.
As she smashed the vehicle outside their Florida home, he lost control behind the wheel and crashed into a tree. Woods was later seen lying on his back on the ground, shoeless and unconscious from an anti-insomnia sedative.
The previous night Ms Nordegren had looked through his mobile phone messages and found he had been lying when he publicly refuted claims that he’d had an affair with New York nightclub hostess Rachel Uchitel.
It emerged that she was just one of at least 15 women (estimates of the total rose as high as 120) with whom he had cheated on his wife.
Several of them said the golfer, who suffered from insomnia, would stay up all night having sex. A New York madam claimed Woods had repeatedly used her services, sometimes hiring prostitutes two at a time and once paying $15,000 (£11,400) for a call girl.
His marriage collapsed and, as he was plagued by back injuries, so did his golf. However, his many friends and admirers in the sport never lost hope that he would recover his form and rehabilitate his reputation.
Tiger Woods reacts as he wins the Masters golf tournament Sunday, April 14, 2019
It was not a foregone conculsion. In 2017, Woods took another knock when police found him asleep at the wheel of his £180,000 Mercedes outside his Florida home at 2am one night. He told them he thought he was in California.
Woods blithely dismissed his humiliating state as ‘an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications’ but it emerged that two of the five drugs in his system were banned by golf’s governing body, the PGA Tour. He admitted a charge of reckless driving but escaped a more serious one of driving under the influence.
By 2018, his golf performances had improved and large crowds once more turned out to watch him play.
However, once again he suffered a reversal. A biography, Tiger Woods, argued that he was an even worse human being than anyone had assumed.
Written by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian, and based on 250 interviews, the book portrayed Woods as a sociopathic narcissist with no time for even the most basic human civilities such as a ‘hello’ or ‘thank you’.
The authors suggested that Woods’s controlling, dysfunctional parents deserved much of the blame. His domineering father, Earl Woods, has been credited with instilling in him the ruthless drive to win at golf — and the new Nike advert shows father and son embracing after Woods’s first big competition win.
New York nightclub hostess Rachel Uchitel
But the book revealed Woods Sr to be a compulsive womaniser who in later life kept a squad of young female staff in his house to satisfy his sexual needs and had pornography showing continually on his TV.
Woods, the lonely only child of an African-American father and a Thai mother, was painfully insecure away from golf and developed a stutter, said the authors. Success only accentuated his shortcomings, they added.
Even while he was wooing Ms Nordegren, a nanny to another player’s children, Woods was playing the field on lavish Las Vegas jaunts. He particularly liked a debauched nightclub where VIPs could pick out attractive women and have them brought to their table.
Marriage changed nothing and he continued to trawl the seamier nightclubs of Vegas, New York and Orlando for young conquests. Woods claimed the book was ‘littered with egregious errors’.
There was never any reconciliation with his spurned wife, who left him with an estimated £76 million settlement. Woods had sex addiction therapy, followed by a succession of girlfriends. He met the latest, Erica Herman, 35, in September 2017. The former manager of a golf-themed restaurant he owned has been his loyal supporter in public.
The jury is still out on whether Woods has changed as a human being. Critics say he never sent condolences to the family of Glenn Frey, the Eagles singer and a close friend, when he died in 2016, nor did he get in touch with ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn when she suffered a terrible training injury.
His fans insist Woods is now a genuinely devoted dad. Even if they are right, it’s clear that in the sports world, personal failings count for little when set against success and money.
Yes, Tiger Woods is flawed, but his courage and spirit can inspire us all
By David Jones for the Daily Mail
As we strive for superlatives befitting Tiger Woods’s astonishing comeback, comparing him with sport’s other against-all-odds returnees — from Muhammad Ali to our own James Cracknell — we might also consider the wider implications of his triumph.
For his redemption is not only a story about reserves of courage and indomitable spirit, it also reminds us of the importance of forgiveness. In the eyes of the public, who revered him until he so shamefully abused his position, the errant Woods has finally been vindicated and pardoned for his sins.
To realise that, you only had to listen to the Augusta crowd’s whoops of delight as he sank the winning putt on Sunday evening. To see the thrill on their faces as he exchanged high-fives with them on his triumphant strut back to clubhouse. It was telling that the Sky Sports golf pundits omitted to mention, even once, the industrial-scale infidelity that caused Woods’s stellar career to fall off a cliff almost a decade ago, every bit as much as the more recent chronic spinal injury that required reconstructive surgery.
Tiger Woods smiles after being awarded the Green Jacket during the Green Jacket Ceremony after winning the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club
As they heaped praise on him, there were just a few oblique euphemisms about his past ‘problems’. All that mattered was that Tiger, the genius with more God-given talent than anyone the game has known, was back.
Their euphoria was understandable. For in his pomp, Woods was not merely a great golfer. He was so superior to his rivals, so instantly recognisable in every corner of the world, that he quite simply was his sport.
When he made his entrance, during the mid-Nineties, golf was slowly dying — despised by many young and working-class people as a snooty and tediously time-consuming pastime for white professional types.
Built like a finely honed athlete, decked out in a stylish crimson shirt and black slacks, and plainly disdainful of his inferiors, Tiger made golf seem so cool that the courses were suddenly filled with teenagers.
Indeed, the fact that two million people regularly play at Britain’s 2,500 clubs, and that golf has become a $200 billion global industry spanning designer merchandise and tourism, is in no small measure down to Woods’ magnetic charisma.
That he was a role model to less-advantaged young people only exacerbated the tragedy of his demise. When his debauchery was laid bare, he disillusioned an entire generation.
So, as he removed his sweat-soaked Nike cap to display his now-balding pate after winning the Masters for a fifth time, one couldn’t help but feel thrilled by his rebirth. Only the stoniest of hearts could have failed to be stirred as Woods strode joyously off the course to hug his mother, daughter and son, who wasn’t even born when he last won a major tournament.
How different he was to the slightly stooped man I saw being humiliated at the Ryder Cup in Paris, only last September. Then, he had looked all-but finished, a rather sorry has-been.
Among ageing weekend golfers such as me, this reversal of fortunes is hugely inspiring, for it is a reminder that even with our artificial knees and various ailments we can strive to improve. That somewhere within our frail bodies there is still that golden round.
Indeed, the significance of Woods’s resurgence transcends golf. It is proof that in any field, age and infirmity are not insurmountable barriers, merely hurdles to be overcome. That no one should be written-off as a lost cause.
We do not know how Woods’s ex-wife, Elin Nordegren, feels about his glorious restoration, but having retrained as a psychologist and made her peace with him, one suspects this admirable woman will be pleased his years of physical and mental torment are over.
We should rejoice in his amazing comeback, too. For by pulling off his redemptive victory, Tiger has not only restored the faith of his fans.
He has unwittingly taught us a powerful lesson: that however low you sink in life, there is always a glimmer of hope.