Tiger needs Elin to help find game

Updated: October 4, 2004, 3:12 PM ET
By Ron Sirak | Golf World

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.

Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren
Perhaps once Tiger becomes a family man, he will again pass Vijay Singh and Ernie Els in the World Ranking.

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

Ron Sirak is the executive editor of Golf World magazine.