Tiger's entire adult life held him captive, desperately seeking a way out of his own monachopsis. The fame that gave him a life he never could have imagined is the same that kept him from having the one he ultimately desired. Because for all his accomplishments — the 14 Majors, the video games, the money — what Tiger needed more than anything was normalcy.
From the age of three, when he was first introduced to the world on the Ed Sullivan Show, Eldrick was gone; the child born to Earl and Kutilda would be a fairy tale, lost in translation. His life would never be what Eldrick needed, because that person was replaced by Tiger; his childhood was lost.
Tiger was the antithesis: The robotic, maniacal entity, driven by being not only the best, but the only. He wanted to shatter every record that came before him. When that world came crashing down in 2009, the scars we saw on him were so much more emotional than they were physical. When his infidelity became known — the countless women, the lies, the falseness of his previous image — a strange thing happened.
Below the underbelly of late-night mockery and faux-uproar, Woods became almost more popular than ever before. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why. For the first time since that three-year old boy made the country giggle, he became human again. He was flawed like us. He made mistakes like us. For Woods to become human, the wall needed to crumble. Eldrick needed to be reborn. He needed to be honest.
In this country, we don't exile our athletes for making mistakes; we shun them for not being open about them. We forgave Andy Pettitte, because he didn't shy away from his cheating. We despise Alex Rodriguez because he did. But their cheating was different. Sure, we can all take steroids; but their mistakes were to help with performances on stages we can't relate to.
With Tiger, it was different. His was relatable.
He strayed because he was searching for something he had yet to find. He wasn't trying to tear others down; in his affairs, it's safe to assume, he was only looking to build himself up. The man who seemingly had it all — the supermodel wife, more money than he could ever know what to do with, adoration and astonishment from all — just wanted to feel normal.
It was the most human he had ever been. We lashed out at first, bemoaning his behavior. Then, we took a step back, and saw him for who he was — a shattered caricature. A little boy, controlled and steered from his first moments, seeking to gain control of his life for the first time.
It was wrong. But it was real.
Six full seasons have come and gone since his life was turned upside down, and now, Tiger Woods is merely a few weeks shy of 40 years old. Let that sink in. The kid with the 1,000-watt smile, the fist-pump, and the Sunday Red, is now an adult. He's no longer dominating — and based on this past season, he's not very good or healthy anymore either — and the tour is loaded with so much young, vibrant talent, from Jordan Spieth and Rory Mcilroy, to Jason Day and Ricky Fowler, that the Tiger we once knew can never exist again.
Tiger Woods, for what he was created to be, is gone. From here on out, we have Eldrick. A divorced father of two; a man in transition, trying to figure out where his life will take him. In a lot of ways, he is just like you or me — knocked down by his own doing, trying to figure out how to get up. For the first time in his life, almost 37 years after we were first introduced, we can now say we know Eldrick "Tiger" Woods.
And I, for one, am happy to root for him.