Tiger Woods is a golfer, not a moral guardian

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 April, 2010, 12:00am

Tiger Woods' return to competitive golfing has reignited interest in his personal life. As he strides the fairways and greens at the Masters tournament in Augusta this week, the extramarital affairs that brought his career to a stop in December are again a topic of media gossip and prurient barroom debate.

Invariably, the discussion centres on morals and his fitness to be a public figure. Ignored is the fact that he is not a politician or religious leader: he is merely a golfer.

Woods is, of course, a sportsman with extraordinary talent. He gets so much attention because he can hit a golf ball with more accuracy than any other player in the world. At just 35, he is already reckoned to be the second-best golfer ever, and with each new tournament win is catching up to the No 1, Jack Nicklaus. On-course prowess and sponsorship deals make him the highest paid athlete of all. His skills and profile have made him a role model for children and their parents.

The affairs have taken considerable shine off his once squeaky-clean image. A number of sponsors have dropped him. He has apologised to his wife, children and fans for his straying - but not enough for some people's liking. To them, he is a liar, cheat, sexual predator and worse; some of the tags are accurate.

Ideally, marriages are loving, caring and faithful. People in authority who stray and are publicly exposed are often forced from office. We expect such people to have the highest moral standards and set an example for society. That was the case in 2008 with Eliot Spitzer, whose dalliance with a prostitute forced him to resign as governor of the US state of New York.

Woods is not in charge of our laws or a spokesman for the moral high ground. He has committed no crime. Were he to take sports-enhancing drugs, he would have to quit golf for a time.

As disappointing as his behaviour towards his family may have been, though, it is not a cause for him to leave the game. If there is to be punishment, it is a matter for his fans and sponsors.