There are only two dates that really matter for Tiger Woods in 2010 – Feb. 19 and April 5. Everything else that transpired over the course of his worst professional and personal calendar was background noise.
The former was the first post-Nov. 27 appearance by a man who had been much more private than originally thought – and, coincidentally, Day 3 of play at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, which drew the ire of a few frat brothers.
A 1,500-word made-for-TV mea culpa mixed with predictably vague admissions of infidelity and now-familiar lectures for a media driven to insatiable lengths by the bizarre happenings of Nov. 27.
But if Feb. 19 was the start of a new era, April 5 was just eerie. A public Band-Aid removed quickly if not begrudgingly. In 1996 in Milwaukee it was “Hello, world.” Before a packed house at Augusta National it was “Hello, cold world.”
Woods fielded 48 queries in his first public Q&A – everything from Dr. Anthony Galea to his use of Ambien and Vicodin. Strangely enough nothing was out of bounds at a golf club that prides itself on the adherence to boundaries.
“I lied to a lot of people, deceived a lot of people, kept others in the dark; rationalized, and even lied to myself. And when you strip all that away, you start realizing what I had done, the full magnitude of it, it's pretty brutal,” he said. “I take full responsibility for what I've done, and I don't take that lightly.”
Six days later Woods tied for fourth with four under-par rounds, Phil Mickelson fit into a third green jacket and one got the feeling all was right with the golf world. It was an utterly misplaced feeling.
From Magnolia Lane, Woods missed the cut at Quail Hollow, needing pars on the demanding final three holes just to break 80 on Friday; withdrew from The Players Championship on Saturday with a previously undisclosed neck injury; and seemed to hit bottom, at least competitively, in August when he finished tied for 78th in an 81-man field at Firestone, some 30 strokes behind eventual champion Hunter Mahan.
Shortly after his early Players exit, swing coach Hank Haney stepped down, later telling Golf Digest that his relationship with Woods “didn’t get dysfunctional; it always was dysfunctional.”
Haney wasn’t alone heading for the exit. Sponsors who’d flocked to the once Teflon-clean athlete for endorsement opportunities fell away with each news cycle. AT&T was one of the first to jump, then Accenture and Gillette. Swiss watch maker Tag Heuer said it would “downscale” its use of Woods. In advertisements.
Business and personal, for so long a “church and state” issue for Woods, now collided almost daily.
As more reports of Woods’ serial infidelity surfaced, rumors of a pending divorce between Woods and his wife, Elin, began to circulate. In August the split became legal when the divorce was finalized in a Bay County (Fla.) courtroom.
Along the way Woods failed to win for the first time since joining the PGA Tour in 1996, failed to earn a spot at the Tour Championship and needed a captain’s pick to join the U.S. Ryder Cup team in Wales. He was never part of the Sunday conversation at a major championship, which was made all the more curious by the notion that three of the four Grand Slam venues (Augusta National, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews) were considered personal playgrounds for Woods.
Competitively, however, Woods appeared to be headed in the right direction. He began working with Sean Foley, at least officially, just before the PGA Championship; was solid in his Monday singles match at the Ryder Cup and appeared at his best in early December when he lost to Graeme McDowell in a playoff at his own Chevron World Challenge.
“Whether it's the beginning or end I don't know, but I'm just really excited about this off-season. I haven't been that way in a while,” Woods said following is final round at Chevron.
Throughout it all, Woods was the story of 2010, and it all began with a pair of surreal media spectacles which defined a season.