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Tiger Woods on the 5th hole during the 3rd round of the 2010 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April10, 2010 in Augusta, Georgia. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY)
Tiger Woods on the 5th hole during the 3rd round of the 2010 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April10, 2010 in Augusta, Georgia. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY)

Match Tough

What if Woods was a tennis star? Add to ...

If Tiger Woods was a tennis player, and held the same supreme status as the game's No. 1 player that he does in golf, would it have been easier for him to return to that sport after five months off the tour following a very public humiliation?

Because Wimbledon is comparable to the Masters - it has a storied history, is run by a closed-shop group of club members and adheres to its own strict set of rules and traditions - how would he have been treated at the All England Lawn Tennis Club?

In one way, it would have been easier for him as a tennis player because the top Wimbledon competitors are seeded and don't have to face their hardest opposition from the get-go.

Also, they are more separated from the public and only have to walk through the club's passageways when going to play on Centre Court. They don't come into as close proximity with fans as golfers do at the Masters as they walk out to the first tee or move from one hole to another.

But, Wimbledon's crowds are more democratic and not as regimented as the "patrons" at Augusta, and it would be more likely someone would have shouted out a derogatory remark at Woods while he played in front of the 15,000 spectators on Centre Court.

What about the chances Woods could win the title at Wimbledon after not playing a tournament in five months?

Tony Trabert, the respected American who won the French, Wimbledon and U.S. titles in 1955, once said that tennis is a "form sport." By that he meant that in tennis things generally go according to form - namely that the higher-ranked player usually prevails. By comparison, in golf there is a much greater chance that a player from outside the top echelon can win.

So Woods would likely have been able to return to tennis and more easily assert his superior form to get through the seven matches required to win a Wimbledon title.

It is also conceivable that, as he won each round, his aura would quickly return and he would be able to re-assert his psychological dominance over opponents. Men's and women's tennis are different but, in January, Justine Henin came back from 20 months off and made the final of her first event in Brisbane, losing it after holding two match points against Kim Clijsters.

At the Masters as a golfer, Woods was competing against 95 other competitors, any one of whom could have a hot week and win the title just as outsiders Angel Cabrera, Trevor Immelman and Zach Johnson did at Augusta in 2009, 2008 and 2007 respectively.

So Wimbledon, despite the challenge of facing a variety of opponents after five months out of action, might have been a better fit for Woods than it was for him at the Masters.

But Woods, who wound up tying for fourth, roughly the equivalent of reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals, probably would have had to be on better behaviour at Wimbledon. Despite saying before the Masters that he would try to be more "respectful" of the game of golf and rein in his emotions, after a poorly-hit shot on Saturday he sharply exclaimed, "Tiger Woods you suck...goddammit." Depending on the umpire and the context, that outburst might have brought a warning for an "audible obscenity" at Wimbledon.

Under the current circumstances, Woods probably would have been a marked man by the umpires, unlike someone such as the gentlemanly Roger Federer who would be given a wider berth.

To Federer's credit, while not as close friends with Woods as the people at Nike and the IMG management firm like to pretend, he did text the American during the depths of his bizarre personal crisis late last year.

And, along with his wife Mirka, he got together for lunch with Elin Woods, Tiger's wife, in Florida during the Sony Ericsson Open two weeks ago.

While the original friendship axis was between the two male sports superstars, the gesture by Mr. and Mrs. Federer toward Woods' betrayed wife definitely looks good on them. One can only hope that Woods would show the same kind of empathy in a similar situation, despite it being virtually impossible to imagine one that could be even remotely similar



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