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THE TAMPON WAS DUMB, BUT TIGER HAS BEEN TORMENTED ENOUGH IN LIFE
His prank is an affront to women, but before the social-media mobs cancel him, they should consider Woods’ life of tumult and tragedy — including the horrific SUV crash that almost killed him in 2021
There are times to scold a man for his failings. This is not one of them, if the subject is Tiger Woods and the furor involves a tampon. From the fairways Thursday at Riviera Country Club, I saw a tortured soul who has taken too many off-ramps into hell — bimbo scandals, health ordeals, opioid dependency and, of course, his horrific SUV crash only 24 months ago — and was overjoyed to be alive, thrilled to be walking and playing competitive golf when he could have flipped off the world long ago and bought his own island somewhere.
I happened to be following Woods on the ninth hole at his tournament, the Genesis Invitational, and noticed a moment of laughter between him and his close friend, Justin Thomas. He seemed happy, soon to be happier after three finishing birdies left him five shots off the first-round lead. I wondered if he at least might make a cut at The Masters, if his year would be filled with more of the defiance that has defined him on and off the course, if he’d wedge onto a leaderboard at some point, if he’d continue to fight the good fight against LIV Golf — the renegade, filthy-cash, Saudi-sportswashing clown show that offered him almost $1 billion, a sum he quickly rejected out of dignity and disgust.
When his promising round was over, he flashed a devilish smile at Thomas. Asked about it, Woods laughed again and spoke of the all-day banter between three friends in the grouping — including Rory McIlroy — and called it “a great round of ebb and flow, needling each other, encouraging each other and telling stories. I haven’t been out here. I’ve missed some things that have transpired on tour.” He also pointed out, “I didn’t want to be the idiot host to miss (the putt) right in front of everybody after I just went birdie-birdie.”
A day later, Tiger Woods was the idiot host apologizing for the very moment I’d seen on No. 9. It wasn’t apparent from the ropes, but Woods had slipped a tampon package into Thomas’ right hand as they walked down the fairway after striking their tee shots. Thomas quickly dropped it into the grass, and Woods wrapped an arm around his buddy as both chuckled. This was something two bro-dudes might do in their teens — one pranking the other for outdriving him, as Woods had accomplished by at least 20 yards — and it wasn’t the low-brow stunt you’d expect from any 47-year-old male, much less one who knows he’s on camera at all times and has a daughter, Sam Alexis, who is 15 and becoming a lady. This was an embarrassment, an affront to women, an insult to those who love and respect women, a screwup that makes you wonder if Woods actually strolled into a store in Pacific Palisades and bought a box of tampons.
“Excuse me, in which aisle can I find menstrual products?”
“When you’re finished, Mr. Woods, can you sign my CVS bag?”
But anyone with perspective — and for too many wannabe power-trippers on social media, wisdom stops at the TWEET button — will take one step back and think for a moment. Is Woods in full control of his sensibilities right now? Did a crash that almost robbed him of his right leg also impact his psyche? I don’t know what’s going on inside his head. How many of us could have survived dramas of all kinds, events that frightened and enraged and saddened the masses, without out-of-sorts moments? How many surgeries has he endured, before and since the accident? Don’t tell me he’s open game as a public figure. In truth, he’s a human being like the rest of us, except he doesn’t get his kicks creating memes and riffing in comment sections.
Should Woods have given Thomas a tampon? No, no, no and no. Does this remind us of how tech children are disgraced — how’s life, Travis Kalanick? — and lose their gigs after bacchanal retreats? Yes, yes, yes and yes.
Sorry to disappoint the vultures, but I can’t muster the anger and add to his injuries by ripping him a new a-hole. This was Woods’ first official event since missing the cut at the British Open last July, which came weeks after he quit the PGA Championship before the final round with pain in his right leg. Not long ago, he was dangerously close to an amputee’s existence in a ditch some 25 miles down the coast. He is playing on one decent left leg, trying to survive with a surgically repaired right leg and foot. The tampon exchange is annoying, unfortunate, weird. All I ask is to compare his laughter of Thursday to the tears welling in his eyes Friday, as he apologized for the prank after a dismal round of 3-over 74. He barely avoided missing the cut in his own tournament, which makes him a weekend afterthought in an event he never has won.
Isn’t that enough punishment? Or should you continue to pile on because, hey, you have nothing else to do?
“Yeah, it was supposed to be all fun and games but obviously it hasn't turned out that way," Woods said of Tampongate. “And if I offended anybody, it was not the case, it was just friends having fun. As I said, if I offended anybody in any way, shape or form, I'm sorry. It was not intended to be that way. It was just we play pranks on one another all the time, and virally I think this did not come across that way, but between us it was — it's different.”
He continues to be the most polarizing sports great of his day, far more so than LeBron James or Tom Brady, and he has brought on much of his despair all by his lonesome. But as I watched him apologize, after watching him persevere the day before, it occurred to me that we’d better appreciate Tiger Woods while we still have him. His days of winning major championships are over, despite the 2019 victory at Augusta National that suggested anything was possible. At this point, he’s just trying to walk 18 holes without falling down, his limp noticeable during both Genesis rounds. He decided at the last minute to give Riviera a shot, despite the famous steep, winding hike from the course to the clubhouse. Just preparing to play a round is a torturous ordeal for one still dealing with plantar fasciitis — or plantar fascist, as Michael Jordan called it — in his foot.
“The communication between myself, my staff, my training team — it’s an ebb and flow daily trying to figure out the right tape job, the right angles, the padding that we need. That all changes from day to day,” Woods said after his Thursday round. “Look at where we were last year. It has completely changed, and it will continue to change.”
He was feisty again, refusing to believe he ever could settle as a ceremonial golfer, saying it’s “not in my DNA” to become America’s host. “If I’m playing in the event, I’m going to try and beat you. I’m there to get a W, OK?” he said. “So I don’t understand that making the cut’s a great thing. If I entered the event, it’s always to get a W.”
In rationalization mode, he said, “There’s no contact, I don’t have 300-pound guys falling on top of me. It’s just a matter of shooting the lowest score. We have the ability to pick and choose and play a little bit longer.”
But Friday brought a reminder that he entered the week at 1,294th in the Official World Golf Ranking. Barely making the cut at Riviera shifts the narrative back to the familiar groan: Why is he still playing? Why didn’t he retire and go out on top at Augusta four years ago? He knows what we’re saying. “There will come a point in time when my body will not allow me to do that anymore,” he said, “and it’s probably sooner rather than later.
“Yes, when you get a little bit older and you get a little more banged up you’re not as invincible as you once were.”
In some twisted way, maybe a near-missed cut and a prank gone awry will lead him to more introspection. Is it worth a constant routine of ice and treatment, only to miss nine of 14 fairways and miss his first four putts inside 10 feet on a lost Friday? “I just blocked them, they were just bad putts,” Woods said. “They were not very hard, good reads.”
His mind, once a steel trap, is wayward. He miscalculates putts, botches pranks and almost misses cuts. Tiger Woods can be anywhere he wants to be on this planet and needn’t subject himself to scrutiny over tee shots and tampons.
I feel sorry for him. You should, too.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.