Commentary

Don't make the Tiger Woods/PED leap

Originally Published: May 17, 2011
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The emails arrive each day and they're as subtle as a pair of Ian Poulter's pants.

Dan from Chicago: "At what point do people really start to question whether or not Tiger was ever taking performance enhancing drugs? … Tiger got big and ripped in a hurry and with the rash of injuries recently, it has to raise an eyebrow, don't you think?"

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
Ross Kinnaird/Getty ImagesTiger Woods suffered a knee and Achilles injury on this shot during the third round of the Masters. Although he played the final round a day later in early April, Woods has played only nine holes on the PGA Tour since.

From a golf fan named Cameron: "His aggressive/sexual behavior and broken-down body are very typical results of PEDs. Obviously no concrete evidence, but also obviously worth discussing."

From another golf follower named J. Stellato: "Did he use PEDs? … If we ask these questions in other sports and athletes, maybe it's time to take a closer look at Tiger and see what his legacy was built on."

And these are the calm, reasoned emails. You should read some from the fanatics.

Anyway, the Tiger Woods ice floe of invincibility continues to melt slowly away. Blame it on global credibility warming.

Woods has a problem and it goes way beyond whether he'll be able to compete in next month's U.S. Open at Congressional. (He said on Monday he intends to try.) The problem is this: People don't know if they can believe him anymore.

Questions about the connection between his latest knee/Achilles injury and possible PED use were inevitable, even predictable. Woods is 35. His body is breaking down. It has to be the aftereffects of Vitamin S injections, right?

Actually, no, it doesn't.

"It appears he strained his MCL [medial collateral ligament]," said Dr. Alexis Chiang Colvin, an orthopedic surgeon and assistant professor of sports medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. "That's pretty unusual for that to be related to steroid use."

Colvin, who works with the United States Tennis Association and has treated NFL, NHL and college players, said the link between tendon injuries, most notably ruptures, are more indicative of steroid abuse. Woods' recent injury issues, she said, are likely the cumulative effect of four different surgical procedures on the same left knee, including reconstructive anterior cruciate ligament surgery in 2008.

"That knee has had so many surgeries on it," Colvin said. "He obviously has something else going on there. Cartilage problems never go away."

I don't believe that Woods did the juicing deed. But I understand why others do.

His association with Canadian Dr. Anthony Galea, who was indicted last October on federal charges of smuggling human growth hormone and other illegal substances into the U.S. and lying to border patrol agents … his waxed and buffed physique … his cluster of injuries … his well-documented marital infidelity. You have to work at it, but you can connect the dots.

If Woods could cheat on his wife, say the disbelievers, why couldn't he cheat on the game of golf? Perhaps his obsession with surpassing Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 career major victories overwhelmed his better angels. Maybe he resorted to PEDs to accelerate his injury recovery time.

It all sounds plausible. Sort of.

But Woods isn't Barry Bonds. Bonds went from 185 pounds as an MLB rookie to a cartoonish 250-ish pounds in the sunset of his career -- and hit more home runs in a single season (at age 36) than anyone in the history of the game. Woods hasn't won a major since 2008 or a PGA Tour event since 2009. He also doesn't have a felony trial and conviction on his record.

Woods isn't Roger Clemens, whose trainer ratted him out. And whose close friend, Andy Pettitte, recalled specific Clemens conversations about the Rocket's PED use.

Woods isn't Sammy Sosa, who forgot how to speak English during his congressional appearance on PEDs. He isn't Mark McGwire, who was identified in the PED lineup by his own blood brother and by his own Bash Brother.

And for what it's worth, Woods is the guy who, as early as 2006, lobbied hard and publicly for drug testing on the PGA Tour. He did this despite the tour's own commissioner saying he was opposed to such testing at the time.

"I don't know when we could get that implemented," Woods said back then. "Tomorrow would be fine with me."

Drug testing began two years later.

I know -- the tour still doesn't test for human growth hormone, so who knows for sure if Tiger tried the stuff. And after asking PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem about it, don't hold your breath on a change of policy. Finchem questions the reliability of HGH blood testing, which is interesting since the World Anti-Doping Agency says the test is completely reliable.

The commish also wonders if HGH use "makes a difference in this game." Really? Studies show HGH can reduce the recovery time from injury and increase an athlete's ability to practice and work out. Think that would help in golf?

Anyway, if Woods did take HGH these past few years, he should demand a refund. It didn't work.

Woods' golf career arc doesn't mirror that of a PED user. There was no weird, late-career win spike. There was no sudden, unexplained increase in victories followed by a total flameout. Nope, Woods dominated leaderboards as an amateur and as a pro. Skinny or buff, 18 or 30 years old, Butch Harmon or Hank Haney … Woods won.

Still, nothing surprises me anymore -- especially when it comes to Woods. He reveals so little of himself to the outside world. He's cooperative, but guarded; polite, but often vague. Even close friends such as Mark O'Meara admit that Woods can tighten the information spigot to a drip at times.

And that's fine. Woods has an obligation to be civil, not be Chris Rock. But the flip side is that nobody really knows him. And in some ways, his personal transgressions have strengthened the suspicions relative to Woods and performance enhancers.

Woods gets the PED benefit of the doubt from me not because he has a history of honesty (he doesn't), but because the facts don't add up. Until they do, I'll raise an eyebrow, but nothing more.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.

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