What the rise and fall—and rise again—of Tiger Woods means to the American public

By Niara Savage

A sea of faces poised with eager anticipation erupts into joyous mayhem as Tiger throws his arms into the air, in what has long since been known as a demonstration of certain victory, in a YouTube video that has been viewed nearly 700,000 times in the three days since it was posted.

Tiger Woods’ recent PGA Tour Championship win represents, not only the end of the athlete’s five-year winning drought, but also illustrates America’s unforgiving relationship with athletic arrogance, and undying infatuation with a good ol fashion comeback.

The universal elation that struck the crowd privileged to witness Tiger’s Sunday win first hand, paints a very different image of the athlete’s relationship with public opinion than the headlines and allegations that plastered front pages and smeared his name nearly a decade ago.

In 2009, Tiger Woods had firmly established himself as a member of athletic high society: He had secured a total of 79 major and minor wins at the time, and on top of it all, he was a black man making it big in a predominately white sport.

November 2009 saw the overnight outbreak of allegations of infidelity, extramarital affairs, and drunkenness. Later in the month, a video of an inebriated Tiger Woods crashing his car into a tree in his front yard at 2:25 a.m. following an argument with his wife, surfaced online.

“This situation is my fault, and it’s obviously embarrassing to my family and me,” Woods said of the event. “I’m human and I’m not perfect. I will certainly make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

However, the fall didn’t end there. Woods was forced to withdraw from the upcoming golf tournament, the Chevron World Challenge, citing his injuries as the cause for his absence.

Then, in December, the Florida Highway Patrol announced that Woods receive a careless driving fine, and four points against his driver’s license.

As the painstaking details of his affair leaked to the public, churned out by magazines like Us Weekly, companies such as AT&T, GM, Accenture Ltd. Gatorade and Gillette severed ties with the athlete, or him from their products, advertisements and sponsorships.

In a 2005 Gallup poll showed that 85 percent of respondents viewed Woods in a favorable light. Following the events of 2009, 43 percent of respondents viewed the athlete in a distinctly unfavorable light.

In a sense, Woods fell from grace in a sort of dishonorable discharge from the golf world.

Contrast that with the cheering crowds’ reaction to Tiger’s Sunday win. It’s almost as though Americans had to put Woods through a unique form of social due process.

We the people, responded as if to say, although arrogance and infidelity may not be punishable by law in the United States, justice must still be served. And judgment did Woods receive.

But when he had served his sentence–after judges and juries had lined the corners of Twitter, and Facebook and newsrooms around the world–he was released from the formidable grasp of social incarceration.

The Ringer published an article Wednesday entitled, The Euphoria of a Tiger Woods Win.

Yahoo called his victory “the greatest comeback story in sports history.”

America has always rooted for the underdog. The comeback kid has paid his dues. And coming into the PGA Tour Championship after four back surgeries, an infamous public scandal, after no wins in five years, that’s exactly what Tiger Woods was for that cheering crowd.

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