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Thursday, July 21, 2011
Tiger Woods' new normal

By Rick Reilly
ESPN.com

Tiger Woods
Things have not gone well for Tiger Woods for the last two years, on and off the course. It may be time for Woods to reconsider everything and embrace a new normal.

The waning champion, Tiger Woods, seems to see the world as his personal doormat.

From the way he treated his marriage -- stomp -- to the way he treats golf etiquette -- stomp -- to the way he stiffs car valets and bellhops -- who? -- Woods seems bent on winding up with so few friends they'll be able to hold his funeral in a fitting room.

And now comes the way he's treated his friend, groomsman and caddie, Stevie Williams.

Nobody has been more loyal to Woods than Williams.

When throngs of fans and media blocked the way, he was a one-man flying wedge for Woods.

When clicking happened on backswings, he tossed cameras into ponds for Woods.

When the parade of porn stars and pancake princesses came pouring out of Tiger's past, he went stone mute for Woods.

And how does Woods pay him back?

By reportedly not paying him a dime during this two-year knee-rebuilding, swing-rebuilding, Buddha-embracing hiatus.

By not telling him that he wasn't going to play in this year's U.S. Open -- Williams didn't find out about it until he landed in Portland from New Zealand.

And now, by firing him, apparently for taking Adam Scott's bag a couple of times to tide himself over.

Irony there. Williams took a bullet for Woods for nearly two years and then winds up being shot by Woods himself.

"I've basically wasted the last two years of my life," a pissed-off Williams told Mediaworks.

But Williams you don't have to worry about. The one who needs an extreme makeover now is Tiger Woods.

It's time for a new normal, Tiger.

Tiger, you need to realize that when you come back, you'll no longer scare anybody. Unlike the old days, you can only win with your clubs now, not your scowl and not your jet and not your caddie, whoever that's going to be.

Economists tell us real estate values may never come back and we need to get used to a new normal. Unemployment may never improve. New normal.

So, Tiger Woods, if and when you return to golf, you need to adjust to a new normal.

New Normal #1: You're a JAG right now -- Just Another Guy.

You're not golf's young stud anymore. Not young. Not a stud. Dustin Johnson takes you four out of five in a cage match now.

It's been three years since you've won a major. Almost two since you've won ... anything. You're 35 years old with a knee that's had four surgeries, an Achilles that's a-killing you, and a golf ball that won't listen.

You need to realize that when you come back, you'll no longer scare anybody. Unlike the old days, you can only win with your clubs now, not your scowl and not your jet and not your caddie, whoever that's going to be.

Tell me, what do tour players Chris Couch, Marc Leishman and Chris Stroud have in common with you this year? They've all won about the same money and the exact same number of tournaments as you have. Which would be zero.

Anybody scared of those guys?

You're sliding down the world rankings like they're greased. You're 20th now. You're as upside down as NewsCorp stock.

So ...

New Normal #2: Get a win wherever you can.

Gone are the days when you're bigger than the Greenbriar or the John Deere or the Honda Classic. When you get back out there, you're going to need off the schneid, bad. If it comes at the Texas Open, take it. Because the truth is, Tiger, you're not above the Texas Open anymore. Pride went out the window two Thanksgivings ago.

New Normal #3: Try a little tenderness.

Take some time with people. Phil Mickelson signs for 20 minutes after every round, Tuesday or Sunday, first place or 100th. On a good month, you do 20 minutes. Try it once. You might like it.

Your every moment on a golf course doesn't have to be Elvis being rushed out of the Hilton. Take some time with people. Say hello. Stand on 18 once and watch a guy finish, then shake his hand. It's not going to kill you. Your dad used to do it all the time.

New Normal #4: Enough with the emperor act.

Climb down from this ivory tower you live in. Introduce a little transparency into your life. Give an interview once in a while that isn't being timed by your agent standing in the corner. Tweet more than once a month.

Hire a good-guy caddie, like former Scott/Greg Norman bagman Tony Navarro. He's available. Navarro is 51 years old and has seen everything twice. He's not going to let you act like a jackass. You need him.

New Normal #5: Spread it around a little.

Look, everybody knows you're the cheapest guy on tour. Some people are sure your wallet is sewn shut. I know a car valet in L.A. that you've stiffed so many times, he feels like he's full of embalming fluid. The last time he saw you, he stood in front of the car door, making small talk until you made with a fiver.

Don't be like that. Drop some coin. You'll be surprised how it improves your disposition. Karma does exist, you know.

And one old normal: Go back to the 2000 swing.

Enough screwing around. Get the film out and go back to how you swung the golf club when you were the single greatest player in history. Remember when you had all four major trophies on your coffee table at once? You did it with the 2000 swing. It works.

The truth is, Tiger, you're not golf's pope anymore. You're not divinely entitled to greatness. Your talent used to forgive your lack of grace. Not anymore.

All you are right now is a guy with injury problems, swing problems and monstrous public-relations problems. You've lost your wife, your swing, your coach, your caddie, your health and your good name, all in 18 months. You may have roughly $500 million, but you're running very low on everything else right about now.

There's a way to get it all back -- humility.

As a wise man named Gerry McIlroy once said, it doesn't cost anything extra to be nice.


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Rick Reilly is the 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year. He contributes essays and commentary to "SportsCenter" and ESPN/ABC golf and tennis coverage. He's also the host of "Homecoming," ESPN's unique, one-hour interview show set in the hometowns of legendary athletes. For more Rick, check out the archive.


Feel like taking a detour from sane sports? Try Rick's latest book, "Sports from Hell."