RIATH AL-SAMARRAI: A peek into the dark behind Teflon Tiger reveals more about his tangled legacy

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It was a year ago this week when an interesting detail emerged from behind the high walls and locked doors that guard Tiger Woods.

It came from his teenage daughter Sam and was spoken with love at his induction to golf’s hall of fame, so it wasn’t the sort we find in court papers, the National Enquirer or dashcam footage from state troopers.  

No, it wasn’t one of those, but she did tell a revealing tale about a man whose aversion to defeat has only ever been matched by his disdain for prying eyes.

‘How can a guy who still FaceTimes his friends to discuss Marvel and DC timelines and who goes to Comic-Con dressed as Batman be one of the greatest golfers that ever lived?’ she asked, and it was a golden nugget which was predictably well received in the room in Florida.

It played to what his friends would depict as the charming nerdiness of sport’s most ruthless predator, and on related tangents it is tempting to recall that when Woods rolled his Cadillac Escalade into a hydrant in 2009, a book entitled Get A Grip On Physics was spotted in the footwell among the shards of a broken window and a shattered marriage.

The secrets of Tiger Woods' personal life are slowly leaving a tangled legacy for the American

The secrets of Tiger Woods’ personal life are slowly leaving a tangled legacy for the American 

The couple were first spotted at the Presidents Cup in New Jersey in October 2017

Erica Herman alleges that Tiger Woods tricked her into leaving the Florida mansion where they had lived together for six years following their breakup in October

He never was what he seemed, Woods, but the fascination in his daughter’s story was derived from how much it invited us to think about his masks and his need to wear them. About his existence as a sportsman of near unprecedented fame and the peculiarities of a life spent in hiding. 

How he can be in a convention room but simultaneously not in the room. How he might crave being around the like-minded but could never be one of them. Not without his mask. Not as himself, whoever the hell that is.

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It is tragic, in its way, and so much of his life in the past 14 years has appeared as such: a big cat trapped in a billion-dollar cage of his own success, pacing around with chronic pain in his body and memories of scandals in his head. 

And yet to go too far down that path to sympathy is to risk a warped disservice to others in the complicated story of one of the most compelling characters ever to play sport. A story of many strange, grubby chapters and some that are possibly still being written.

Which returns us to Florida, this time to a circuit court, and the latest snippets to escape over the top of that wall, pursued by Woods’s lawyers.

We don’t yet know the full extent and truth of what was left unsaid in documents filed by Erica Herman’s attorneys last Monday, with it subsequently emerging that others had been lodged in October. 

But they have raised the possibility of disclosures that somehow, eventually, might prove more relevant to his tangled legacy than anything else to have gone before in an astonishing life.

More than the 14 majors he won before the almighty tumble down from Olympus and the one he then won in a sporting comeback for the ages. More than the snaking putt on 17 at Sawgrass, the flop shot at 14 at Memorial, the chip on 16 at Augusta and countless other strokes of genius. 

Herman is taking the 15-time major winner to court over an NDA she claims she was forced to sign following the couple's split in October after six years together

Herman is taking the 15-time major winner to court over an NDA she claims she was forced to sign following the couple’s split in October after six years together 

More than the infidelities and the hydrant and the addictions and the DUI and the police mugshot and the tampon and the 85mph car crash across an intersection that almost cost him a leg and, luckier still, didn’t cost any innocent parties their life.

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Woods was called ‘Teflon’ recently by the Olympic legend Michael Johnson, as in nothing ever sticks to him for long in a sport begging for his approval, but therein lies the question of what, if anything, will come from those court papers.

More precisely, it is a question of whether Herman’s experiences in her time as Woods’s employee and then his long-term girlfriend went to the dark places that would allow her to nullify the non-disclosure agreement on the grounds of the Speak Out Act.

A week ago, not many of us would have had much awareness of such an Act or its very existence. Now, we are familiar enough to know it was designed for instances of sexual assault or harassment, but it is still the unknowns that are hanging heaviest in the air, which as of today cover an awful lot. 

That goes up to and including whether the most serious inferences of the documents relate directly to Woods or someone else, because no such accusations have been made against him and there is also no suggestion of wrongdoing.

In its place, between the legalese and pursuits of damages in those documents, are the little and large and remarkable details that reveal more of a life less ordinary. Details like the need for Herman to sign herself to a disconcerting level of secrecy to exist in Woods’s closer orbit. 

Or the dramatic minutiae of how their relationship was ended in October after more than five years by Woods, with Herman’s team painting a picture of being ‘tricked’ into going to an airport under the pretence of a holiday, only for the locks to be changed behind her.

Woods and Herman were together for six years but the relationship reportedly became toxic

Woods and Herman were together for six years but the relationship reportedly became toxic

From there, they say agents for Woods then ‘frightened her away from returning’ and misappropriated $40,000 of her cash.

There will likely be far wider context, you would assume. But Woods hasn’t responded publicly and might not until he arrives at Augusta next month.

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Again, it is sad on some levels when you think that this is what life ultimately became for one of the greatest talents in history.

A life of accessing intimacy via legally binding contracts and switching it off again with the same brutal efficiency with which he once holed big putts on a Sunday. It was often difficult to comprehend just how very good he was. It has long been far harder to comprehend the man behind the mask.

PRIDE COMES BEFORE A FALL, CONOR 

Conor Benn did an interview with Piers Morgan last week that felt trace-level low on good answers to key questions.

We know Benn (left) insists he is not guilty of doping and we know he believes the world has been out to get him and how hard he has apparently found it. 

What we also now know is ‘pride’ is his given reason for not co-operating with the investigation by UK Anti-Doping and the British Boxing Board of Control that has the power to clear or ban him.

Even in a case that birthed so many egg gags, we may have just had its most surreal twist yet.

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Benn was suspended in October after he twice tested positive for a banned substance

CAN’T POCH SEE SPURS’ FAULT LINES?

Mauricio Pochettino is keen to return to Tottenham. It would be one of those moves that fills the heart and baffles the head.

For Spurs, it would perhaps be their best chance of keeping Harry Kane, so it makes sense. 

For Pochettino, it would be returning to a club loaded with many of the same problems that wore him down last time and with the additional risk of losing Kane. 

If he cannot see that then possibly his famed powers of observation aren’t quite what they were.

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