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Tiger Woods: The Disturbing Fall from Grace

Tiger Woods was one of the select few athletes ever to transcend his sport and reach true stardom. Even people who didn’t care about professional golf or know much about it at all knew the name Tiger Woods.

He dominated his chosen game through lifelong dedication. He went on to have his face plastered everywhere, through multimillion-dollar advertising deals with companies such as Gillette and Nike.

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The winner of 14 major golf tournaments is now the poster child for how easily it can all slip away. At 3 a.m. on Monday — in the wee hours of Memorial Day 2017 — Woods was placed under arrest and charged with a DUI after he was found asleep at the wheel in Jupiter, Florida. Woods had extremely show and slurred speech, according to a police report.

The turn of events comes after he had been staging a comeback this year on the golf course following physical ailments that had derailed him.

In a statement released to USA Today, Woods said Monday night, “I understand the severity of what I did, and I take full responsibility for my actions.”

He also said, “I want the public to know that alcohol was not involved. What happened was an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications. I didn’t realize the mix of medications had affected me so strongly.”

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Before the year 2009, it was difficult to find a negative headline about Woods. In 1996 Woods became the PGA Rookie of the Year and earned sponsorship deals that netted him more exposure than most golfers were used to — ever.

He proved the very next year that the attention was warranted when he won his first major, the Masters, at just 21 years old. He won it by 12 strokes and pocketed $486,000 from the win.

The success continued. By age 24, Woods had achieved the longest tour-win streak since Ben Hogan. He’d won six tours and was the youngest golfer ever to accomplish the grand slam: He won the U.S. Open and The Open majors, as well as his second U.S. PGA victory.

In 2001, when he won the Masters tournament, he became the first golfer to hold all four majors at the same time. Woods was no longer a man but rather a force of nature, literally rewriting his sport’s history with each swing of his golf club.

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On and on the success went. He was inducted into California’s Hall of Fame in 2007 as he kept adding victory after victory, refusing to let himself be relieved of his top position in the world.

Woods was set to become bigger than Michael Jordan, bigger than Shaquille O’Neal, bigger than any athlete ever in 2009. He made professional golf what it is today, singlehandedly setting the flame of popularity the sport spoils itself in today. In simple terms — he made golf cool.

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In 2009 Woods was named the “Athlete of the Decade” by the Associated Press. That same year, he became the FedEx Cup champion for a second time and was named PGA Player of the Year for the 10th time. There was no stopping the man. And since he had attained a level of success never before seen in his sport, it was absolutely unpredictable and exciting in terms of what the future could hold for him and his career.

Then it all ended — and we got a glimpse of the person we now see in the now-viral mugshot. It was November of 2009 when the National Enquirer ran a story on one of Woods’ extramarital affairs. Only two days later, Woods hit a fire hydrant with his car in the early morning hours and was treated for minor facial lacerations. He received a ticket for careless driving.

US Weekly then ran a story about another potential extramarital affair, and Woods decided to break his silence and release a statement, saying there had been “transgressions.” He apologized to fans. Over the next few days, more than a dozen women claimed to have had affairs with the married father of two.

Woods was now a different man in everyone’s eyes.

Woods was a different man in everyone’s eyes. He was no longer the impressive golfer who pushed his sport forward. He was no longer the focused and driven man who had likely inspired countless people to swing a club. Now he was slowly becoming the shadow of what he once was.

Sponsorship deals ended. Gillette, AT&T, Gatorade and other companies severed ties with the athlete. It was all coming crumbling down. Studies said shareholders had likely lost over $10 billion because of their ties to Woods. The athlete and his wife, Elin Nordegren, divorced the following year.

And with the mind goes the body. Despite Woods’ best attempts to regain his footing on the green, it was something not meant to be. Woods began withdrawing from tournaments, citing everything from back pain to issues with his Achilles tendon. He withdrew from the Players Championship after only nine holes in 2011 because of knee issues.

“I will do everything in my power to ensure this never happens again.”

The following year, he withdrew from the WGC-Cadillac Championship after seven holes for similar reasons. On and on it went: Woods withdrew from tournaments and was never able to stage the comeback he no doubt badly desired.

This year was no different. In a public statement, Woods complained of “back spasms” and missed the Masters, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Genesis Open, and the Honda Classic.

Still, fans and supporters hoped beyond hope that Woods could become the redemption story that so many celebrities have become before him: Mickey Rourke, Robert Downey Jr., etc. If there’s something America loves more than a champion — it’s a dedicated person who refuses to be stopped, who refuses to ever give up even in the face of his own shortcomings. Try and try he does, until he scratches his way back to the top. Unfortunately, Woods has seen no such trajectory as of  yet.

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The mugshot captured on Monday morning after the DUI arrest shows the public a very different Tiger Woods than the sports champion and unrelenting athlete we once knew.

Through his public statement, Woods has once again apologized. “I will do everything in my power to ensure this never happens again,” he said.

It is unlikely we will ever get the Tiger Woods we once knew back — that is what’s so sad. Hope springs eternal and scores of people wish him well, of course. He is still young, at just 41. So we will watch and hope and pray.