Commentary

Just how likable is Tiger Woods?

Updated: May 14, 2013, 9:40 PM ET
By Farrell Evans | ESPN.com

In almost every major disagreement between siblings, sports teams or ethnic groups, there is usually some underlying explanation for the dispute that goes back months, years or centuries (in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict).

Over the past weekend at The Players Championship at TPC at Sawgrass, we saw history in action in the war of words between Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia. In the midst of an argument over on-course etiquette, it came out that Garcia doesn't think Tiger is a nice person.

No tour player has been that forthcoming about his personal feelings toward the 14-time major champion. There were those who were critical of Tiger's character after the revelations of his sordid extramarital affairs in late 2009, but no one tried to use that moment to give a portrait of the whole man and what kind of guy he would be to have a beer with.

[+] EnlargeSergio Garcia, Tiger Woods
Brad Barr/USA TODAY SportsTiger and Sergio didn't get along all that well at The Players. Does that incident make Tiger unlikable?

Sergio got some support from the marshals who were stationed on the second hole on Saturday. Tiger said he had only pulled his club, the act that set off the chain of events that upset Garcia, after he was given the go-ahead by the marshals, who disputed that claim in an interview with Sports Illustrated.

"Nothing was said to us and we certainly said nothing to him," said chief marshal John North. "I was disappointed to hear him make those remarks. We're there to help the players and enhance the experience of the fans. He was saying what was good for him. It lacked character."

Tiger's worst offense in all of this could be (allegedly) lying about consulting with the marshals or misinterpreting signals that he might have gotten from them that it was his turn to play.

Players, with the help of their caddies, generally exchange their yardages in the fairways with others in their group to determine who will play first. Sergio and Tiger were on opposite sides of the fairway and didn't go through this ritual. This might have saved us from having to endure all this "he said, he said" business, but in the end, none of it had any bearing on the outcome of the golf tournament.

And besides, if Tiger had pulled a lay-up club instead of a fairway metal to hit the par-5 in two, there wouldn't have been the crowd applause to irritate Sergio.

Most people want to take a side when it comes to Tiger. In our commentary-driven culture, it's not enough to just love or hate him. Some of us need to defend him against the haters, who have found a hero in Sergio.

Every occasion to talk about Tiger is a time to argue and ruminate over his strengths and weaknesses, his character and likability, his choice of girlfriend and caddie.

Tiger is not above reproach or completely innocent. He is not known on tour as one of the "nicest guys," but neither were Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman or Nick Faldo in their primes. But around the tour, Tiger is considered professional, and if he likes you he will give you a nickname and the gentle ribbing that happens between friends.

As several players have told me through the years, it's hard to dislike a man who's made them all rich through the interests and corporate sponsorship that he's brought to the game. Yet for these same reasons, it's also easy to resent him. But Sergio didn't give one example to demonstrate why Tiger is not a very nice person.

Could it be that he's angry at Tiger for being everything Sergio is not? The events on Saturday were perhaps a convenient way for Garcia to let loose some of his venom against the world's No. 1 player.

We have the version of events from two marshals. It's conceivable that Tiger got clearance to play from another official. What reason would he have to make up a conversation that didn't happen?

Tiger has spent his entire professional career dealing with crowds: pushing them back and pulling them in through his dramatic theater. All of that history doesn't come tumbling down over a split-second decision on one hole.

This war of words is far from over, and once it's done we still won't be any closer to knowing fully whether Tiger is a nice guy or one we can trust.