Sports Coverage Has Changed; Has Tiger?

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif - It's all changed, now and forever. The genie is out of the bottle, and he's not going back. Sports will be different. Golf will be different.

Whether Tiger Woods is different remains a question to be answered, both by his clubs and his actions or reactions.

His golf tournament started Thursday, the one he usually hosts and enters, the one which gets attention because of his reputation. They're still playing, the 18 invitees in the $7.5 million Chevron World Challenge, but it doesn't matter. Only Tiger matters.

And he's not playing. He's not here. Unlike the fallout from his accident and dalliances.

Jerry West, the great basketball player and now chairman of the Northern Trust/Los Angeles Open over the hill at Riviera in February, was at the Chevron briefly. "It's a shame what happened to Tiger,'' said West, who has known Woods, an L.A. area guy, since Tiger was 15. "And to happen now is terrible for this tournament.''

Terrible, but in a way beneficial. Never has the Chevron received this sort of attention, if reflected, and if negative.
About the only way for anyone to get away from the Tiger Story, on the web, on television, in the dailies, was to walk the course, Sherwood Country Club in Ventura County. If there was any gossip out there it was about the outrageous plaid trousers of Ian Poulter, who shared the first-round lead at 68 with Zach Johnson.

Poulter finished second in the 2008 British Open to Padraig Harrington, who also is playing in the Chevron, but they and Zach are supporting actors in this drama, characters in the cast. The star, Eldrick "Tiger'' Woods remains holed up in his Florida mansion while almost hourly another rumor shows up.

TMZ, Radar, National Enquirer, Entertainment Tonight, the outlets once transfixed with the life, loves and immorality of Hollywood and Manhattan will now be scouring the diamonds and the fairways. Maybe there's only one Tiger Woods, but there are plenty of other handsome, wealthy jocks whose habits are the stuff of headlines and deadlines.

In another time, mainly before the 1960s, in sports, like the Las Vegas commercial, what happened there, stayed there. You cared about what a player did on the field, not in the bedroom. Unless it affected his performance on the field.

There's an apocryphal story from a 1930s Yankees road trip of a woman with a knife chasing a nude Babe Ruth down the aisle past a group of sports writers who were playing cards. One supposedly said "I hope she doesn't catch him, or we'll have to write about it.''

These days we have to write about anything and everything. If we don't there's hell to pay. If we do, there's hell to pay.

Robert Niles of the Online Journalism Review criticized the Los Angeles Times because it didn't acknowledge the reports from the gossip sites about Tiger's extramarital affairs.

"News organizations such as the L.A. Times looked like they weren't being straight with readers,'' said Niles, "and they may have been covering up for Woods and his wife.''

That won't occur any longer. The so-called legitimate media, the people who worry about libel and fairness and balance, will be right there tossing out innuendo and accusations just as the super market tabloids and lascivious web locations.

Tiger had in effect lived a charmed and charming existence. He was private, secret, protected at home by gates and on the road by a group of journalists who needing cooperation from the only golfer who matters never created a discouraging word. Even if writers had been aware of Woods' double life, and we weren't, none would have mentioned it.
Fluff Cowan, Tiger's former caddy, who now works for Jim Furyk, was asked what he thought of the current situation, women popping up to tell of being romanced by Tiger, the forced contrition from Woods. "It's none of our business,'' insisted Cowan. "That should be private.''

It isn't any more. It won't be. On Thursday morning, every television news or talk program which could be viewed in the Los Angeles area was overflowing with the Tiger Tale. On one show, three different reporters/anchors debated whether the story should be handled by sports, by finance - that $20 million pre-nup agreement - or by the Hollywood desk.

The guessing is Tiger will remain out of sight, but certainly not out of mind, until late January, when presumably he'll play in the San Diego Invitational. But at least one unnamed fellow pro wonders if Woods might take six months off, trying to save his marriage, trying to avoid any sort of publicity until absolutely necessary,

One keeps thinking about that observation by Dan Jenkins around 2000 when Tiger was winning everything, including the four majors in order. "The only things which could stop him,'' said Jenkins, "are an injury or a bad marriage.''

He's been injured. As far as the other part . . .


As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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