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A sad story just got sadder

The number of iconic images that come to mind when you think of Tiger Woods are limitless. But one that, perhaps surprisingly, stands out for me is a photograph of Woods and Roger Federer, with arms around each other and smiles the width of their faces.

Two men who, at the time, had absolutely conquered life. Fame, success and wealth on levels that are the preserve of precious few who grace this earth, coupled with a wonderful family life away from their respective offices, comprised a package that no one would ever turn down.

Two men who, after they won a major or grand slam, would cheekily tweet or text each other with wry jibes such as ‘you’re up next, buddy’ or ‘I’m ahead of you now’. Two men who were once-in-a-generation standard-bearers of their trades, such that the stars needed to align for them to simultaneously entertain us at their peak.

Two men who had it all.

Nearly a decade on, it is now very safe to say that just the one of them is still winning at life. For it is a new image that will haunt me when I think of Tiger Woods from this day forward. Yet there could be only one overwhelming emotion when trying to absorb the sight of the dishevelled, glazed-over, 41-year old in that mugshot released on Monday: sadness. Pure, unadulterated sadness.

Details remain scarce at this time, and innocent until proven guilty. Woods has sworn in a statement that alcohol wasn’t involved, and that the ‘I’ in ‘DUI’ was actually the result of an ‘unexpected reaction to prescribed medication’. Toxicology reports, which may be released as early as the next 24 hours, could well confirm this.

But even the best-case scenario, as painted above, still doesn’t sit well. Rumours have circled for years that Woods’ affinity to painkillers has gone above and beyond the dosage prescribed by doctors and surgeons for his troublesome back.

There has always been a logical element of credence to such theories too, given the searing, debilitating pain he has had to endure. It is widely known that he’s been prescribed Vicodin (painkillers) and Ambien (to help with insomnia), both of which are incredibly potent. So is it really such a stretch that an ordinary, mortal human has become addicted to substances which are, you know, highly addictive?

That’s not even factoring in the rumours of alcohol excesses, which lingered long before the events of Monday. Rumours are rumours, and all that. But it’s difficult to believe that there isn’t at least a modicum of truth to any of it.

It all amounts to a horrendous mess; one that we’re unlikely to ever know the full extent of, given the ferocity with which Woods guards details of his private life. This is, after all, a man who named his yacht ‘Privacy’. And indeed, it is his right for such personal matters to remain outside of the public domain.

But it’s got to the point where you have to wonder just how well this inward looking, closed-off approach to life is serving him. Even close friends like Michael Jordan have little clue how he passes the time, other than to say ‘he plays a lot of computer games’. This is a man clearly in need of help and support. But in a world of self-imposed isolation, precisely where or how is that support system likely to arise?

Maybe Monday’s arrest was simply the result of a once-off misjudgement. A poor decision from a man bored and bogged down by months of inactivity. Or perhaps it was symptomatic of a bigger pattern of substance abuse. Darker still, it may be the actions of a man who has become so tormented by the game he thought he used to love, that such reckless abandon will give him a hastier path to the exit door. Who really knows? All we do know is that it is so very, very sad.

“The thing is about T-Dub, he cannot erase,” Jordan recently said. “That's what he really wants. He wants to erase the things that happened."

Nothing will ever erase that awful mugshot from our minds. An image that encapsulates Woods’ painful decline of the past seven or eight years with tragic aptness. For the person we thought we once knew, adored and revered, is no more. I can’t help but wonder: did he ever even exist?

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