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Tiger needs Elin to help find game

10/4/2004 - Tiger Woods

After tumbling to No. 3 in the Official World Ranking, the former best
player on the planet, Tiger Woods, apparently is willing to take drastic
measures to reclaim his lost glory.

Glancing up at the two guys who recently passed him -- Vijay Singh
grabbed No. 1 at the Deutsche Bank Championship and Ernie Els climbed
over Woods to No. 2 with his victory Sunday at the American Express
Championship -- Woods cannot help but to notice a striking similarity the
duo shares: They are both married. According to the rumor mill, Tiger
and Swedish model/nanny Elin Nordegren will get married this week.

I suppose that's better than going back to Butch Harmon to work on swing
planes and arm angles.

While the marriage rumor should be taken with about as many grains of
salt as there are in the Caribbean waters surrounding Barbados -- where
the ceremony will supposedly take place at the Sandy Lane resort -- there
are reasons to believe it is true. Woods' high school buddy, Bryon Bell,
and his college chum, Jerry Chang, both traveled to Ireland for the AmEx
tournament, presumably to fly with Woods on Air Tiger to Barbados following Sunday's final round.
Newspapers in Barbados say Elin is already there (she was nowhere to be
seen at the AmEx) and management at Sandy Lane -- which Tiger and Elin
visited in January shortly after they were engaged -- says all the rooms
have been reserved by one guest for this week.

Gee, and wasn't it just a
few weeks ago that some were saying the problem with Woods' game was
that he and Elin were breaking up?

This has certainly been a year in which not much has gone right for Woods, so maybe he is thinking that marrying Elin will line up some positive karma. Not only has he gone a second
consecutive year without a major championship, but he is also 0-for-2004
in stroke-play events and was passed by both Singh and Els in events in
which he has a business stake. The Tiger Woods Foundation is the
benefiting charity of the Deutsche Bank and American Express is one of
the endorsement deals that contribute to his $80 million in off-course
income. What's next? Phil Mickelson wins the Disney (another Woods
sponsor) to move past Tiger into No. 3? Hey, wait a minute: Isn't
Mickelson married also?

One thing that has disappeared for Woods as his game has slipped is
the public's willingness to forgive his petulant side. Those obscenities
screamed after a poor shot are no longer viewed as the refreshing
enthusiasm of a 25-year-old genius but rather the boorish behavior of a
frustrated 28-year-old with little self-control. The camera-kicking
antics of his caddie, Steve Williams, cry out as actions his boss needs
to control. And withdrawing from the 84 Lumber Classic, citing
post-Ryder Cup exhaustion, rings hollow when Woods engages on a
whirlwind PR tour for his new EA Sports video game the same week.

Indeed, Singh and Els have not only passed Woods in the rankings but
also have emerged as more appealing personalities -- and in the case of
Singh that is no small feat. Els, Singh and Mickelson have all parlayed
married life into an image-enhancing event.

While Liezl Els and Ardena Singh do not get as much TV camera time as
Amy Mickelson, both are frequent spectators to watch their husbands
play. Els' oldest child -- daughter Samantha -- appears winningly as the
student Els calls Sarah in his PGA Tour commercial in which he writes
down a bunch of numbers on a blackboard and Sarah correctly says how
many under par it is. Vijay's only child, son Qass, helped bring out the
tender side of Singh when they played together last year in the Office
Depot Father/Son Tournament. And who could forget the first Mickelson
pregnancy during Phil's near miss in the 1999 U.S. Open or the last that
was near tragic and contributed to his off year in 2003?

Maybe exactly what Woods needs at this lull in his career is to go onto
the next stage of his life. Maybe the child prodigy needs now to
rediscover his star power as a family man and a father. Most everyone
who becomes a parent for the first time has a story about an incident in
which they were about to lose their temper and utter an unmentionable
word only to look at the face of their young one and realize the life
message they were about to transmit. Sometimes, when self-control fails,
the right way to behave can be found in concern for our young. Sometimes
the child is truly the teacher of the parent.

There is no doubt in this camp that Tiger Woods will once again be Tiger
Woods. He is simply too talented, too determined and too dedicated for
his awesome ability to remain in hiding for much longer. Perhaps 2000
was his career year and we will never again see him play golf at that
level.

But so what? We had never before seen anyone play at that level.
Woods does not have to play at a 2000 level -- nine victories, including
three majors -- to return to being the best player currently competing
and to once again stake his claim to the shared crown of Ben Hogan and
Jack Nicklaus as the best player ever.

Among the advantages Nicklaus had over Woods is that he raised a family
out of the public spotlight. In that very different media era no one
cared that this young man of enormous talent had children. But imagine
what it will be like when Tiger has a cub? That will be the most
anticipated offspring since Secretariat. Maybe Tiger and Elin will get
married this week in Barbados. If so, maybe it will be the beginning of
a new life that will allow the old Tiger to re-emerge.

Let's hope so. The game is a little boring without him.

Ron Sirak is the Executive Editor of Golf World magazine