The Vanity of Tiger
By Stephanie Wei under General

The cover of the February issue of Vanity Fair bares a shirtless Tiger Woods pumping iron with a menacing glare of a “thug” in the bleak confines of a prison yard. Seemingly the “never-before-seen photos,” which were shot pre-scandal in January 2006 by the celebrated Annie Leibovitz, suggest they capture the “real” Tiger, the sex-maniac philanderer.

The racy images accompany Buzz Bissinger’s lofty prose in his examination reflecting on Tiger and his descent. Some highlights:

In an age of constant gotcha and exposure, he had always been the bionic man in terms of personality, controlling to a fault and controlled to a fault, smiling with humility and showing those pearly white teeth in victory or defeat, sui generis in the world of pro golf, where even fellow pros and other insiders didn’t really know him, because he didn’t want anybody to know him. With Woods, everything was crafted to produce a man of nothing, with no interior—non-threatening and non-controversial.

That was Tiger Woods, all of which made him the perfect man and pitchman for our imperfect times, a charming nonperson.

Bissinger spoke with several golf writers that have followed Tiger’s career to glean from their experiences in the media room:

“Tiger learned very well to talk forever and say nothing,” said [Joe] Logan, a co-founder of a Web site called MyPhillyGolf.com, which covers the game both nationally and in the Philadelphia region. For Woods, Logan remembered, an emotional response to a flawless round was “I had a pretty good day.” He never got rude or rattled. He never got irritated with a stupid question, in large part because he knew the camera was always on him. The press conference would go on until [agent Mark] Steinberg would give another nearly imperceptible nod that it was over. Afterward, Logan, like other golf writers, would walk out and realize that virtually nothing Woods had said, whatever the cordiality, was usable.

Really? Tiger never appeared “rude” or “irritated”? Interesting observation. Kinda like he never held back on showing his contempt on the golf course. But, apparently that’s not the point.

In the wake of the steamy revelations, Logan, like the general public, feels that Tiger willfully, and fraudulently, created an image designed to make him as much money as possible: “He held himself out to a higher standard he created and built and cashed in on. Everyone feels duped and betrayed. It’s not like some guy who got drunk and jumped in the sack with some waitress.”

“He tried to present himself as a normal person,” said Michael Bamberger, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, who has covered Woods’s career. “What seems clear now is that he lived a very abnormal life all his life in a sport in which guys are very conventional, and if you are not conventional you get ostracized right away.”

And of course, the mystique is lost forever, all resulting from his greatest character flaw:

His focus is such that he can likely still win, whatever the insanity surrounding him, but life will be different. Donald Trump thinks he will come back “bigger than ever,” a sure sign the opposite will happen.

In the end it was the age-old clash of image versus reality, the compartmentalization of two different lives that inevitably merge at some certain point, whoever you are. He exhibited the same superhuman confidence off the golf course that he exhibited on it, apparently convinced he would never be caught despite the stupid sloppiness at the end—text messages, voice-mail messages. He deluded himself into thinking he could be something that he wasn’t: untouchable. The greatest feat of his career is that he managed to get away with it for so long in public, the bionic man instead of the human one who hit a fire hydrant.

Therein lies the dangers of hubris. While the blog-hating Bissinger doesn’t add much new (and I disagree with parts), he provides a thorough look behind Tiger’s carefully crafted, enigmatic persona and the forces leading to his graceless fall. And obviously, there’s much more to Tiger. Bissinger is by no means a golf expert, evident by the shortcomings to the piece — thing is, most people reading about Tiger aren’t either.