TIGER WOODS DOESN'T play often, but he is playing in Jack Nicklaus's Memorial Tournament this week. Woods announced his participation on his website on April 29, a full month ahead of the deadline!
No, the final punctuation above is not another example of exclamation-mark abuse, rampant though it is among the kids. Tiger's early commitment was actually news, and another example of #Tiger :). One of the lesser complaints about Tiger for nearly 20 years was that he committed to tournaments at the last possible moment, an annoyance for organizers, Tour officials and networks trying to promote future telecasts. But now we have KGT—Kinder, Gentler Tiger. It's welcome.
Everywhere you look these days, the dude's a flower in bloom. The new Tiger has been on display for at least the past half-year. In January he patiently revisited the episode in which he lost a tooth on an Italian mountain. Later, in the winter of his discontent, he discussed the internal swing confusion that caused his vaunted short game to go AWOL before making a miraculous return. Another time he said of Arnold Palmer, "I love Arnold to death and what he's meant to me and my life." You never heard Tiger sound so warm. Some weeks after that, Tiger described his sleepless nights after splitting with Lindsey Vonn. Suddenly his life sounded like a Sting song—and like a real life. After that he went out and finished nearly last in the Players Championship. He explained that, too.
Some cynics have said the charm offensive is the simple by-product of the sorry state of his game. He is ranked 174th on the PGA Tour money list and hasn't won a major since 2008. But there is a less sinister explanation: The man is growing up. Woods is a single father with two young children. He'll turn 40 in December. He is starting to see the world beyond the game that made him rich and famous. His golf may be poorer for it. His sport may be too. But he is not, and neither is his standing with fans.
At the Masters a middle-aged woman called out to the former world No. 1 and said, "Tiger, thank you for all you do!"
Tiger looked up, made eye contact and said to this woman behind the rope, "Thank you, ma'am."
One witness was so awed by this exchange he approached the ma'am for a statement.
Mark Steinberg, Woods's agent, will tell you there's nothing new going on here. "Since Tiger turned pro in 1996, he has had a continual great relationship with the fans," he wrote in a recent email. "He has fed off their support. Tiger is an amazing dad and cherishes his special bond with Sam and Charlie. Some in the media may think he has changed, but that seems quite subjective to me. Maybe they are just more attuned to some things Tiger has done for years." With Tiger, there's always another view.
Alastair Johnston, the longtime IMG executive, has been predicting this middle-age development from Tiger for a while, well-aware that Nicklaus himself went through a similar transformation, right around 40. Nicklaus didn't want to be known as Fat Jack for eternity, famous for taking down Arnold. Over the past 35 years or so, Nicklaus has morphed into the game's wise old man—one with 18 major championships in his hip pocket.
Big Jack's career has always been a road map for Tiger, but maybe the broad example of Nicklaus's life and times now interests Woods. Maybe Tiger Woods has come to a realization—to have 14 major championships in your hip pocket and be a respected and loved figure in the game would be a pretty nice way to travel this earth of ours over the next 40 years or so.
Maybe he can see what we all can see: It's working for Jack.
Woods is a single father. He'll turn 40 in December. He is starting to see the world beyond the game that made him rich.