THIRD MAN IN: Tiger, Elin, and Sex rehab

Behind the Bench/Sports by

So it looks like Tiger has decided to do something about his errant wood, and it’s not what most people would have expected. In late December, the most recognizable athlete in the world checked into a sex rehabilitation clinic in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Predictably, this news led to some backlash in the national tabloids, but if Tiger and those around him feel that he has a problem – and judging by recent events, this seems likely – then it’s good to see that he’s actually doing something about it. Good for him: Tiger finally recognized that he needs to get his marriage and personal life back together before returning to golf.

Mississippi Sex Rehab also happens to be a good public relations move for Tiger, and will at least quiet the rumors that he is living with a mistress on a yacht. Tiger is ostensibly taking the first steps to fixing what he so dramatically broke apart and that’s commendable. Another good move in the wake of a serious misstep: donating a reported three million dollars to Haiti relief efforts.

But, man, what a ride this has been for Tiger. This recent catastrophe has been a long time in the making – the telltale signs of a failing marriage have been there for years. Remember when Tiger won the 2005 Masters? Or the 2008 US Open? Check out his celebrations on YouTube – the lack of visible affection between him and his wife, Elin Nordegren is telling. I’d like to say that I called him out on his infidelity just from seeing the “Tiger Pat”, but I didn’t. My mom did.

Going to sex rehab could change Tiger’s personality for the better, but it’s definitely going to hurt his game. Ever since he was a teenager, Tiger’s been constantly told that he is golf’s version of Jesus Christ, and a complete failure if he doesn’t crush everything in his path. It’s easy to see how this sort of egomania would translate from the sporting to the romantic sphere of Tiger’s life. If he’s told that his sexual instincts are misguided, it will be interesting to see what effect that has on his (pretty much identical) golf instincts. Michael Jordan had gambling, Theo Fleury had alcohol and cocaine, and Tiger has cocktail waitresses and porn stars. Checking into sex rehab, I’m sure he’s scared he’ll lose his edge.

2010 will be a big year for Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia, even if, or when, Tiger comes back. It’s no secret that many on the Tour, especially those two, hate his guts for one reason or another. Mickelson will finally have a psychological advantage over Tiger. Ditto for Garcia, who dealt with his own heartbreak last season when his fiancée dumped him in March. Imagine Tiger on the 72nd tee at Augusta this year, tied with Mickelson, with the green jacket on the line. They’ll make eye contact, and Lefty will flash his awful, irritating grin, that seems to say: I used to be terrified of you, but not anymore. Tiger won’t have a chance.

– Gabe PulverContributor