DUBLIN, Ohio – Outside the clubhouse at Muirfield Village sits a very large rock bearing the names of every winner in the 40-year history of the Memorial Tournament.
It’s a list that starts with Roger Maltbie in 1976 and ends with William McGirt in 2016.
In the middle, on five separate inscriptions, is the name Tiger Woods.
For years, Woods dominated the Memorial, claiming victory and posing with Jack Nicklaus on Sunday a record five times. Woods is the all-time money winner at this event, racking up more than $5 million in earnings.
And once again this week, as in so many years past, Woods is the biggest story.
Of course this time, golf has nothing to do with it.
Woods early Monday again rocked the sports world with a mugshot that represented a new low in what’s been a stunning fall from grace.
When Woods so much as sneezes, it qualifies as news in golf circles. So when he’s cited for DUI, the air comes out of the room.
There is a tournament to be played this week at Muirfield, a good one, too. Seven of the top 10 players in the world are here just two weeks before the second major of the year.
Jason Day is here trying to find balance in his life after aiding his mother in her fight with cancer. Dustin Johnson is looking to regain the form that saw him win three consecutive events before he injured his back at the Masters. Jordan Spieth is coming off a runner-up finish at Colonial one week after trying out a new putter and is somehow flying under the radar. There are storylines aplenty.
And yet, as much as golf has moved on from Woods’ era of dominance, his is the only name that transcends the game. And the slow but steady trickle of updates coming out of the Jupiter Police Department is keeping fans and media members’ attentions rapt.
Woods’ colleagues on Tour have spent the early week mostly discussing the states of their games, save for the time they’ve spent less-than-eagerly discussing Woods.
When asked about the situation Tuesday, Day appeared frustrated that he hadn’t dodged the question and then saddened at his friend’s plight, saying that it was “tough to see Woods go through this.”
Adam Scott thought for a second and didn’t look all that comfortable talking about it while offering that he was “just surprised and I guess a bit saddened to see that. I don’t ... we should all – I don’t know all the details about it, but hopefully it’s not a worse problem than it is.”
A day earlier, Jack Nicklaus called for support for Woods, and Dustin Johnson in an interview offered his thoughts and prayers.
No doubt, once play gets underway here Thursday, the focus will return to golf. Should a Spieth or a Day or a DJ walk up the 18th fairway Sunday afternoon to a standing ovation, discussions will return to how a litany of young talents have banded together to take up Tiger’s mantle. The same thing will happen in two weeks at the U.S. Open.
But no matter how good a story golf provides, Tiger is going to keep looming large, new details will continue to emerge. The dash cam video is coming. The results of his urine test will follow. There will be an arraignment, and court proceedings will proceed from there. And as in the past, there will be updates – real or fabricated – on his health, recovery, and future as an athlete.
For those reasons, Woods is going to continue to exist in a parallel universe. We’ve arrived at a point where there are stories about golf, and there are stories about Tiger, and those two topics seem increasingly unrelated. Only once before was that dynamic as clear as it has been this week at the Memorial. But in 2009, when he dented up a different black SUV, Tiger Woods was still Tiger Woods. There was a surreal quality to the headlines back then. While the last few days have offered a look at a different kind of trouble, each successive setback in his personal life is proving progressively less surreal, progressively more believable when it comes to light.
The game will move on in the way it already has. DJ, Day, Spieth, Rory McIlroy and the like will carry the torch and borrow from the best parts of “Tiger Woods, The Golfer” to great success.
But Tiger is going to continue along in his own bubble, largely disconnected from the game he ruled. Until Woods makes a successful return, until he makes headlines for his play on the course, he’ll be a story unto himself.
Perhaps the most revealing comments about Woods' current relationship to the PGA Tour came from last week's champion Kevin Kisner. A two-time Tour winner who has finished runner-up six times in the last three seasons. Kisner was asked on Tuesday how well he knows Woods.
"Never met him," he answered.
As each new detail filters out over the coming days and weeks, Woods’ name will stay in the conversation. But each time one of his peers has to stop discussing his game to address whatever is going on with Tiger, the disconnect between Woods' life and professional golf will grow wider.